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The last concert of Music for a Great Space's season, a violin and piano recital held in the spacious Christ United Methodist Church, could not help but whet music lovers' appetites for the upcoming Eastern Music Festival season as well as awaken fond memories of past seasons. Violinist Jeffrey Multer has been the EMF's concertmaster for twenty-five years. He had been a student at the festival for two summers. Multer has also been concertmaster of the Florida Orchestra since 2005. Pianist Christina Dahl is on the piano faculty and serves as Director of Chamber Music at SUNY Stony Brook. She was on the faculty of the Eastern Music Festival for eight years, the last three as chairman of the piano department. Both musicians are very active chamber music players.
Half of the scheduled program had to be scrapped; sonatas by Bartók and Beethoven were omitted, and works by Bach and Schumann planned for the first half were played after intermission.
Multer apologized for these changes, saying that the purchase of his first house and renovations affected needed preparation time for Bartók's Second Sonata in C. Instead, Multer opened the concert with the First Violin Sonata in G, Op. 78, by Johannes Brahms. One of the violinist's favorite works, he said it was difficult to program because its length and its quiet ending were undesirable for ending a recital.
Depending on which source you read, Brahms' First Violin Sonata was preceded by either three or four discarded sonatas. Brahms' own high standards led him to torch more works than most composers ever create. This sonata is sometimes known as Regenlied or "Rain Song" because it contains a theme from his song "Regenlied," Op. 59, No. 3, as well as a rapid figuration in the piano suggestive of the pattering sound of falling raindrops. According to Melvin Berger, in Guide to Sonatas, "the song calls out to the rain to reawaken childhood dreams and to recollect once again songs from the past." The work is lyrical and tender with a wistful undercurrent of regret for the loss and passing of time.
Dahl played the Brahms Sonata and indeed the entire concert with the piano's lid fully raised. So skillfully did she balance the dynamics that her softest sound was easily heard in the hall. Her tonal palette was wide and richly varied. Multer's tone was full and opulent and his intonation was immaculate. Both players' articulation was flawless no matter how fast the passage. Multer and Dahl wove a gentle and sweet tapestry in sound over the course of the first movement. A highlight was violin pizzicatos set against the piano's pure crystalline treble. The somber adagio's extended opening piano solo was exquisitely rendered by Dahl before Multer's hushed violin joined in. The unifying themes and rhythms were beautifully developed by the players culminating in a hushed "calm optimism."
The Sonata in E, S.1016, of J. S. Bach received a bold and solid interpretation with an anemic hint of an "Early Music Approach." Multer's violin soared above Dahl's shorter keyboard melody in the first movement. The playful second movement had plenty of give-and-take between the two. The highlight of the work, the tender "Adagio ma non tanto," somewhat resembles a chaconne and was played with breathtaking beauty and a seamless line by the duo. They brought out the rhythmic and thematic complexity of the concluding "Allegro"
Robert Schumann's works get short shrift in our area. His piano works have fared best but his chamber music is most often limited to either his Piano Quintet, or even more rarely, his Piano Quartet. Many thanks to Multer and Dahl for selecting the composer's First Sonata in A minor, Op. 105, which is rare enough in our concert halls. Dahl said Clara Schumann had had reservations about the tricky scoring of the last movement. Lucy Ingram served as page turner for the Schumann. Melvin Berger writes, "the writing is neither grateful nor idiomatic for the two instruments" and the "persistence of the minor mode" makes it sound too melancholy. Multer and Dahl made the best possible case for Op. 105, bringing out the elegiac quality of the first movement, the charm and playfulness of the middle, and the stormy finale with its suggestions of a perpetual motion.