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The second digital concert from Music for a Great Space took place in the series' primary performance space, Christ United Methodist Church, which must have been a delight for patrons who have been unable to venture into the church for concerts. The musicians are all faculty members at the Eastern Music Festival. For the record, the concert was originally streamed on October 9, but due to technical issues with the streaming, the concert was offered without a hitch a week later.
The first movement of the Quartet for Piano and Strings in E-flat, K.493, by W.A. Mozart (Austria, 1756-91) opened the concert. The four musicians – Fabián López (violin), Chauncey Patterson (viola), Julian Schwarz (cello), and Marika Bournaki (piano) – all wore masks. They offered up this delightful Allegro with finesse and energy. Elegant and sophisticated passages occasionally take a dark turn as the music moves to the minor mode; the four brought out these changes wonderfully.
Between each set, Bournaki and Schwarz talked about the music, but first spoke about what a pleasure it was to offer a collaboration between EMF and MGS.
Next up was a work by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (Austria, 1897-1957), famous for his Hollywood film scores, including several that won Oscar awards such as "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938). The incidental music to Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Op. 11 (1920) was originally written for chamber orchestra, but several arrangements quickly spread around the world. The version 4 Pieces (Suite) we heard Saturday night was Schwarz's own arrangement for cello and piano from a violin and piano adaptation.
The opening "Maiden in the Bridal Chamber" begins with strummed chords from the cello with piano accompaniment followed by romantically infused melodies that transverse from the cello's middle to upper ranges, with occasional bursts of drama. "March of the Watch" is a bit sober and austere and a little creepy, which was intensely played by both.
"Scene in the Garden" ("the emotional center" of the piece, according to Schwarz's introductory remarks) contains short, lyrical utterances from the cello over undulating piano accompaniment, tenderly delivered. "Masquerade: Hornpipe" featured some virtuosic playing from both keyboard and cello. Schwarz (playing from memory) and Bournaki displayed amazing ensemble throughout the 14-minute work.
"Silent for the Rain" (2018) by Alex Weiser (United States, active) was commissioned by Bournaki and Schwarz. The work is based on a poem by David Vogel (Ukraine, 1891–1944). Bournaki described the work as "very evocative…I hear some French influences" before she read the short poem.
The six-minute piece features sumptuous melodies that slowly unfold. Lovely, melancholic passages with chordal accompaniment from the piano were central to the piece, although cascades of sound from the piano highlighted the climax. Again, great ensemble and heart-felt emotion were on display. Intonation from Schwarz (again playing without a score) was impeccable.
Music by Ludwig van Beethoven (Germany, 1770-1827) was next; it is the 250th anniversary of his birth, after all. The opening Allegro con brio from his Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in B-flat, Op. 11, featured Anthony Taylor (clarinet) with Bournaki and Schwarz. Following a short, slow introduction, the movement overflows with energy, and it was performed as solidly as it was constructed. Lots of solo work for all three musicians gave each ample opportunity to shine in the spotlight.
The second movement (Andantino molto sostenuto e dolce) from Four African Dances, Op. 59, by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (England, 1875-1912) was a request from Lucy Ingram (co-founder of MGS). According to Schwarz, "the piece has such charm and effortlessness...; originally for violin and piano..., we made a transcription." Undulating rolled chords from the piano superbly supported Schwarz's lovely and endearing cello melody.
Up next was the three-movement Sonata for Cello and Piano by Claude Debussy (France, 1862-1918), a staple of the piano-cello repertoire. The opening Prologue: Lent, sostenuto e molto risoluto begins with an introductory fanfare, forcefully played by Bournaki. A sad melody in the cello follows, beautifully played by Schwarz. Some animated music provides contrast.
The second movement Sérénade: Modérément animé depicts Pierrot, the puppet character from the commedia dell'arte. Thus, cello plucking and semi-humorous passages inundate the texture, with rapid changes in mood. The Finale: Animé, léger et nerveux features an innumerable array of instrumental effects such as strumming, plucking, and playing on the bridge. Energy and wonderful color marked this impressive performance from beginning to end.
The "hauntingly beautiful" slow, third movement (Andante cantabile) from the Quartet for Piano and Strings in E-flat, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann (Germany, 1810-56) provided a fitting bookend to the Mozart quartet that began the program and brought those same musicians back to the stage. Schwarz explained that they "wanted to end the program on a reflective note" to recognize what a trying year it has been, with "lots of losses," life, opportunity, work. Bournaki added that the movement is also comforting.
Indeed, this Romantic gem brims with beautiful melody, shared equally between the four musicians. Each played their part with earnest music-making. Ensemble, dynamic shading, and terrific intonation were the hallmarks of this gorgeous conclusion.
The concert was followed by a live Question and Answer session with the musicians providing the audience some real, live interaction with the musicians. Audience members sent in questions to which the artists responded. Husband and wife Schwarz/Bournaki were in Winchester, VA, Patterson was in Miami Beach, FL, while Lopez and Taylor were in Greensboro.