Encores: Violin, piano & a pair of masterworks
“The hearer who abandons himself ... to its beneficent influence will recover from the superficial agitation at the center of the soul, and ... will return to the attraction of the supremely desirable, which is at the same time, the supremely intelligible. Without ceasing to be human he will find himself nearer to God. This music, which is truly as much the sister of prayer as of poetry, does not weaken or enervate us, but rather restores to the soul, now led back to its first source, the grateful waters of emotion, of light, of impulse; it leads back to heaven and the city of rest.”
Composer Vincent d’Indy, on the music of Cesar Franck
A packed — even standing-room-only — house for last Sunday’s Old Deerfield concert proves that good things can and do come in small packages, and you still have a chance to attend one or both of the two musicales to follow — both of which will, from past personal experience, almost unquestionably be luminous occasions. Immediately ahead for Sunday, Aug. 18, is the now perennial return of the The Valtchev-Tchekoratova Violin and Piano Duo, at 3 p.m. in the music room of Memorial Hall Museum. The featured performers: Georgy Valtchev, violin and Lora Tchekoratova, piano. The music: Johannes Brahms’ Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108 and Cesar Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano — arguably two of the most resplendent crown jewels in the violin-piano repertoire.
Both are big, full-bodied works that gorgeously represent the depth and gravitas of their respective composers, so this is definitely not a concert for the faint-of-ear or the lover of baubles. Both emerge from the no-holds-barred aesthetic of the late Romantic period, when notes flew thick and fast, and no passion remained long withheld.
One of Brahms’ greatest skills was his ability to create music in which his chosen instrumental forces were seamlessly interwoven and integrated into a unified fabric of sound: as the violin subsides the underlying piano wells up, with violin intoning in subdued support, only to give way to a democratic distribution of thematic material to both instruments. Whether writing for chamber ensembles or full orchestra, Brahms’ passion for blended sonorities and avoidance of show-offy instrumental chauvinism is everywhere apparent.
When viewing almost any Brahms’ solo piano, chamber or orchestral score I’ve always noted — and sometimes joked about — the composer’s apparent inability to leave much white space on his page: he likes to fill his canvas with notes — and plenty of them — which leads to a constantly churning river of sound out of which his emergent themes and developments appear and into which they vanish, with few, if any, actual resting places. Indeed, if I were to paint the portrait of Brahms’ muses, they would appear as a ceaseless, heaving current of entwined flights and fantasies, glowing with autumnal hues — retrospective ambers and oak-deep browns. Seldom does he lighten his color-scheme to allow the gathering emotional weight to drop from our musical shoulders to reveal, perhaps, a patch of blue sky or sun-lit grass.
Such is the somber beauty of Brahms.
The stand-alone sonata by Franck warrants a book in itself: written in 1886 as a wedding present for the 31-year-old violinist Eugene Ysaye, it was given its first public concert performance on Dec.16 of the same year in Brussels. The sonata was the last work in an afternoon concert held in a gallery with no artificial lighting, and began just as dusk settled in; composer Vincent d’Indy records that they had to play the last three movements in virtual darkness, from memory — a feat hard to believe possible, even now.
The sonata has the beguiling effect of treating you to revolving visions of the same scene from different vantage points; technically speaking, it is constructed in what is called cyclic form, in which elements of the various movements are shared, creating the sense of an ongoing musical deja vu — or, in more literal French, a deja senti — an “already heard” moment, for themes from past movements return to renewed effect.
The glory and irony of Franck’s truly breathlessly beautiful music is that it is — and has remained — so irresistible that other soloists have been uniformly incapable of resisting the temptation to transcribe it for their own instruments — and so, versions exist for cello, viola, flute, alto saxophone, tuba, organ with choir, violin and strings and violin and orchestra. Indeed, one wonders why it has taken so long for the harmonica, accordion and kazoo virtuosos of the world to appropriate for their respective repertoires. After all, all’s fair in love and art.
Such is the glory of Franck.
Memorial Hall Museum, 8 Memorial St., Old Deerfield
Admission to the Aug. 18 concert is $10; $5 for students and seniors. For further information call Memorial Hall Museum at 413-774-3768, ext. 10. Other performances in the Old Deerfield Sunday Afternoon series are listed at www.deerfield-ma.org in the Events Calendar listed under the heading “Happenings” with links to artists’ websites where available.
Life after America’s most mistrusted war
The New Renaissance Players production of Lanford Wilson’s “Fifth of July” will be showing Friday, Aug. 16, and Saturday, Aug. 17, at 7:30 p.m, and Sunday, Aug. 18, at 2 p.m.; the show is described as “... a powerful and moving story of a group of friends and family, scarred by the Vietnam War, trying to move on and thrive in post-war America.”
Some thoughts by director Gilana Chelimsky: “The play was written in the late 1970s; it’s part of what is known as part of Talley Triology, but it’s a stand-alone play. Although I’ve been an actor with NRP for the past 2 years or so, this will be my directorial debut; it’s a show that I’ve been fond of for more than half my life — I actually first saw the play when I was 14. What continues to impress me about it is that there are eight characters in the story who reference different groups in the society of the late ’70s. There are four characters who were very anti-war, hippy-ish, and one of them wound up getting drafted and lost both his legs in the war. There’s a lot of humor in the show — some of it is like gallows humor — that’s one of the things that so great about the show: it deals with a lot of serious subjects but many of the characters are humorous in their own ways. There is also a fair amount of mature language and content, so we do want to make that clear for everyone.”
Tickets are $10. For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit theshea.org
An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at email@example.com.