This portion of the performance was dedicated to Beethoven and two chamber pieces he wrote at roughly the same time, tracking his emotional states as he began to deal with impending deafness.
The second part of the concert, however, had a different composition and feel, devoted entirely to dance. It began with Chopin and culminated with Lukas Foss, and the half slowly built up to a rousing and fun conclusion.
Written in the same period, Beethoven’s Sonata in E-Flat Major Opus 12, No. 3 for piano and violin and the Grand Sonate Pathetique for piano represent the composer’s first attempts to address the theme of fate. As Beethoven remarked to his physician, “I shall place my hand in the jaws of fate; it shall certainly never lay me low.” These pieces posed a daunting task to the two featured musicians in this concert; in fact, they’re probably tough for any performer.
Yet in the sonata for violin and piano, violinist Serena Canin and pianist Thomas Sauer played full of energy, moving swiftly through the Allegro and the Rondo, capturing the good-natured spirit of the piece. At times, however, the violin was a step or two behind the piano.
The piece slipped into a darker, introspective mood in the Adagio, illustrating perhaps Beethoven’s first ruminations about his recently diagnosed hearing loss. In the piece, Beethoven showcased the vocal qualities of the violin, and Canin did not disappoint, playing each note with yearning.
The Pathetique Sonata Opus 13 for piano was written in the key of C minor, as were all Beethoven’s important works, and delves into a far more despondent frame of mind. With the dramatic Grave-Allegro di molto e con brio, Beethoven pit his spirit against the personal tragedy and fate of losing his hearing. In the Adagio e cantabile, Beethoven moved into grudging acceptance. Though not as gloomy as the first movement, the Adagio is just as serious and hauntingly serene.
The Adagio leads into the finale, Rondo: Allegro. Pulsing forward, Beethoven re-encounters the tension between his spirit and the fate he cannot control. The composer refuses to yield, stirring back and forth until the understated yet triumphant closing.
Sauer moved adroitly through much of the piece, but at times he was abrupt. I would have also preferred a more refined interpretation. Using dramatic pauses, Sauer filled the church with silence, highlighting the solemnity of the music, instead of blending the notes.
While the first half of this program represented a psychological progression, the second was much lighter. Sauer began the “dance” part of the program with Chopin’s Opus 59 Mazurkas. Artistically elegant, the piece in Chopin’s hands retains few of the folk qualities inherent in traditional mazurkas. For the most part, Sauer glided over the keys, but his playing was slightly forced in the third and final mazurkas. Canin returned following the mazurkas and played the lively Spanish dance from Manuel de Falla’s opera La Vide Breve and some Fritz Kreisler favorites.
The concert closed with the modern American composer Lukas Foss’ Central Park Reel, which built on the calm passivity of the Chopin mazurkas. Foss maintains a heavy conducting, composing, playing, and painting schedule, a renaissance man if there ever was one. American great Aaron Copland even described Foss’ works as “among the most original and stimulating compositions in American music.” Foss blends the folk influences of a Virginia reel with musical modernism in his Central Park Reel.
Canin’s performance was commendable, capturing the Appalachian feel of the piece. Accompanying her, Sauer pounded out the staggering part for piano impeccably. The fiddle feel of the whole piece had the small but attentive audience tapping their toes and moving with the music.
One word or phrase cannot adequately describe this Chamber Music Quad Cities concert. Each half offered a self-contained program, the first delving into the psyche of Beethoven, the second half dancing with enjoyable, lighter music. While the latter half of the performance was strong, I found it to be an unworthy successor to the first.