Tuesday, February 16, 2016, 8:00 pm
Gilles Vonsattel, piano
Arnaud Sussmann, violin
Paul Neubauer, viola
Paul Watkins, cello
Swiss-born American pianist Gilles Vonsattel is an artist of extraordinary versatility and originality. Recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant and winner of the Naumburg and Geneva competitions, he has in recent years made his Boston Symphony, Tanglewood, and San Francisco Symphony debuts, and performed recitals and chamber music at Ravinia, Tokyo’s Musashino Hall, Wigmore Hall, Bravo! Vail, Music@Menlo, the Lucerne festival, and the Munich Gasteig. Chamber music partners include James Ehnes, Frank Huang, Nicolas Altstaedt, David Shifrin, David Finckel, and the Swiss Chamber Soloists. Deeply committed to contemporary music, he has premiered numerous works. This season’s projects include Mozart concertos with the Vancouver Symphony and Florida Orchestra, as well as many concerts with the CMS. A former member of CMS Two, Mr. Vonsattel received his bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Columbia University and his master’s degree from The Juilliard School. He is on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Winner of a 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant, violinist Arnaud Sussmann has distinguished himself with his unique sound, bravura, and profound musicianship. A thrilling young musician, he captures the attention of classical critics and audiences around the world, he has performed with leading artists including Itzhak Perlman, Menahem Pressler, Gary Hoffman, Shmuel Ashkenasi, Wu Han, David Finckel, Jan Vogler, and members of the Emerson String Quartet. A former member of CMS Two, he regularly appears with CMS in New York and on tour, including performances at London’s Wigmore Hall.
Violist Paul Neubauer’s exceptional musicality and effortless playing led the New York Times to call him “a master musician.” Appointed principal violist of the New York Philharmonic at age 21, he has appeared as soloist with over 100 orchestras. A frequent CMS artist, Mr. Neubauer performs in a trio with soprano Susanna Phillips and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott. He has premiered viola concertos by Bartók (revised version of the Viola Concerto), Friedman, Glière, Jacob, Kernis, Lazarof, Müller-Siemens, Ott, Penderecki, Picker, Suter, and Tower. A two-time Grammy nominee, he has recorded on numerous labels including Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, RCA Red Seal, and Sony Classical. He is on the faculty of The Juilliard School and Mannes College.
Paul Watkins enjoys a distinguished career both as a cellist and as a conductor, and in the 2009-10 season became the first ever music director of the English Chamber Orchestra. As solo cellist he performs regularly with all the major British orchestras and others abroad. Recent highlights include his debut at Carnegie Hall performing Brahms’ Double Concerto with Daniel Hope. He also premiered (and was the dedicatee of) Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new concerto with the Royal Flemish, Tampere, and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestras and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. A dedicated chamber musician, he was a member of the Nash Ensemble from 1997 to 2013, and joined the Emerson String Quartet in 2013. He has given solo recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, South Bank Centre, Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, and Queens Hall in Edinburgh. In 2009 he signed an exclusive recording contract with Chandos Records.
Quartet for piano and strings in E-flat major, Opus 16 | Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Allegro ma non troppo
Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo
During his early years of success in Vienna, Beethoven was cautious about tackling the elevated genres of the string quartet and the symphony, in which Haydn, then still at the height of his powers, particularly excelled. But he was confident enough to risk head-on comparison with the recently dead Mozart. Mozart’s Quintet for piano and winds, K452, clearly lies behind Beethoven’s own Quintet for the same combination (piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn), probably completed during the summer of 1796 (though it may have been begun as early as 1794). To maximize sales, Beethoven quickly arranged it, with minimal reworking, as a quartet for piano and strings (the keyboard part is unaltered, though the strings sometimes play where the winds were silent). Both versions were published together as Opus 16 in 1801.
While this genial, urbane music owes a debt to Mozart, Beethoven’s voice and methods remain his own. Mozart had subtly interwoven the piano and the wind quartet. Beethoven sets them in opposition, so that the outer movements at times resemble a chamber concerto for piano. One difference between the quintet version and the piano quartet arrangement is that, whereas the leisurely cantabile themes of the Allegro ma non troppo were originally presented as keyboard solos, now the strings join in discreetly midway through. And where Mozart rounds off his first movement with a tiny tailpiece, Beethoven balances his substantial development with a seventy-bar coda.
The Andante cantabile is a simple rondo design in which increasingly florid appearances of the main theme enfold two contrasting episodes in G minor and B-flat minor. The first episode opens as a duet for violin and cello, their lines more elaborately ornamented than in the wind original, while the B-flat minor episode recasts what was originally a noble horn solo as a more florid melody for viola.
For his finale Beethoven follows Mozart’s examples (in the horn concertos and several piano concertos) and his own Piano Concerto Number 2, writing a bouncy ‘hunting’ rondo in 6/8 time. Aside from a central episode, the mood is one of unbridled exuberance, right down to the teasing coda, where a tiny snatch of the main theme in the keyboard repeatedly provokes overlapping echoes in the violin—a charming detail that Beethoven added for the piano quartet version.
Serenade (String Trio for violin, viola and cello) in C major, Op. 10 | Ernst von Dohnányi (1877-1960)
Marcia – Allegro
Romanza – Adagio non troppo
Scherzo – Vivace
Tema con variazioni – Andante con moto
Dohnányi was a Hungarian pianist, composer, conductor, administrator and educator who become a towering figure in Hungarian musical culture in the decades before World War II. One of Europe’s most brilliant pianists, Dohnányi single-handedly reconstituted musical life in Budapest over decades of concert programs he curated, conducted and performed. He was one of the first celebrity pianists to extensively perform chamber music. Notably, he apparently fulfilled an Oscar Schindler-type role during the Second World War in Hungary, before moving to the United States.
As a composer, Dohnányi produced a fine body of chamber music, two symphonies and numerous concerti. While his style was somewhat conservative, often likened to Brahms, one of his admirers, Dohnányi’s musical voice was distinctive and his works are regarded as outstanding examples of late Romanticism. Interestingly, his music is largely free of the Hungarian folk music influences found in music by his contemporaries, Bartók and Kodály, whose pieces he programmed and conducted.
Dohnányi composed the Serenade for String Trio in 1902, creating one of the exemplars of the form. Following tradition, the Serenade begins with a lively march and features a rustic tune full of Hungarian flavor. The march appears again at the conclusion of the finale. A slow Romanze follows, evoking the traditional serenade once again, with guitar-like pizzicato of a lyrical song in the violin part interrupted briefly by a passionate outburst. The third-movement Scherzo flexes more modern muscle, with a bristling fugue and a tuneful trio that combine simultaneously in the scherzo reprise. A melancholy, hymn-like theme is developed in a brooding set of variations, another slow movement leading to the rollicking Rondo finale that suggests the influence of Beethoven. The opening march cleverly re-emerges to close the Serenade with pleasing symmetry.
Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major, Opus 87 | Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Allegro con fuoco
Allegro ma non troppo
Dvořák showed his musical promise at an early age. As a youngster, he accompanied his father at local festivities and weddings on the fiddle, and by the age of sixteen, he was already in Prague getting a solid grounding in classical music. Dvořák was impressed by the music of Smetana, with its Bohemian folk idiom, that he heard in the mid-1860s. He realized that the folk tunes that he had learned from his father could serve as an inspirational source for his own composition. Dvořák showed a special ability to create melodies of great charm and freshness that still delight us to this day.
In August 1889, Dvořák wrote to his friend Alois Gobl, “I have finished three movements of a new piano quartet and the finale will be ready in a few days. As I expected, the quartet came easily and the melodies surged upon me.” The quartet was completed nine days later, and the premiere was given in Prague on November 23rd, 1890. This masterfully crafted quartet exhibits great harmonic beauty, and along with Dvořák’s Piano Quintet Opus 81 is regarded as one of his greatest works.
The quartet opens with a bold unison statement in the strings with a capricious response from the piano. A quiet transitional section then leads to the soulful second theme that is played on the viola. Following a richly textured development, in the coda, the viola and violin play fragments of the introductory material with rapid tremolo bow strokes.
The lovely Lento has an interesting design consisting of two thematically and structurally identical parts based on five themes, each with its own particular quality. The first, played by the cello, is intense and romantic. The second, played by the violin, has an aloof air, maintaining calm amidst the activity of the other instruments. The piano plays the agitated third theme, and the fourth, of strong character, is unleashed by the entire group. The fifth melody, played by the piano, is based on the third theme.
The Allegro moderato is a delightful scherzo that introduces the swaying rhythm of a Ländler. The second theme, played by the piano, is reminiscent of an oriental folk dance. The piano repetitions of the principal theme, devised to resemble the sound of a cimbalom (a hammered dulcimer), are particularly striking.
The energetic Finale is similar to the first movement, but more condensed and intense. Some critics claim that it requires the resources of a full orchestra! The assertive first theme, which receives a tutti statement, is followed by other melodic phrases played by the viola. The movement builds to a brilliant climax.