Monday, February 7, 2011

A Memorable Pairing...and Parting

A Memorable Pairing…and Parting

By Tom Wachunas

For demonstrating the sheer heights and depths of Beethoven’s emotionality and compositional prowess in a chamber music setting, there’s arguably no more exemplary (and contrasting) a pairing than his No. 5 and No. 9 sonatas. In his introductory comments to the audience at the February 3 chamber music concert in Cable Recital Hall, pianist Stephen Wogaman noted that it wasn’t Beethoven who named Sonata No. 5 in F Major “Spring,” but probably the publisher who felt that the music conjured such a seasonal association. Given Canton’s recent spate of brutal winter weather events, Wogaman joked that for now we could regard the work as an exercise in wishful thinking.

In any case, Wogaman, along with violinist Nathan Olson, proceeded to deliver a truly inspired performance of the work in all its infectious warmth and playful ornamentations. Spring was indeed, at least for the moment, in the room. For all of the work’s charming simplicity and many moments of humor, it is also one with a fair share of embellishments that call for real virtuosity on the part of the performers. And in that, with enthralling precision, they didn’t disappoint.

In that regard, the duo’s performance of Sonata No. 9 in A Major was an eminently more challenging foray into instrumental mastery, prompting Olson to comment about the notorious difficulties intrinsic to the piano part. Of course we should remember that the same observation easily applies to the violin part. The sonata was named “Kreutzer” for the foremost violinist of Beethoven’s era, and who would not (or could not?) perform it, calling the work “…outrageously unintelligible.”

Fortunately for us in the audience, Wogaman and Olson made the work not only intelligible, but ecstatically dazzling, even as the work reveals Beethoven at his most brooding and tempestuous. It is, to be sure, a notably darker work than the “Spring” sonata, particularly in the driving fury of the first movement. But the performers here seemed bewitched, seamlessly blending the complex relationships of their parts – at times like a competition for dominance – into a mesmerizing sound that was downright symphonic in its presence. And even as the sheer power of that first movement gave way to the relatively lighter, sweeter progressions of the following two movements, the virtuosic playing never flagged in intensity. Together, these perfectly-synched soloists presented a thoroughly electrifying portrait of Beethoven’s genius.

What made this performance all the more savory, and surely bittersweet, was its finality for both performers. Wogaman, after nearly four years here as President and CEO of the Canton Symphony Orchestra, is leaving for Michigan, where in May he will become the fifth President of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. And Olson, after four years as Canton Symphony Concertmaster, will be taking on that position with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Here’s wishing bon voyage to both as they spread the wealth of their astonishing talents to new audiences.

Photo: “Kreutzer Sonata” by Rene Francois Xavier Prinet,oil, 1901

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