The Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival celebrates its 35th anniversary with five concerts. But they won’t be performed at the usual venues, such as the Academy Art Museum or Christ Church across the street in Easton. As you probably surmised from this year’s festival title, “Virtual Virtuosi,” the concerts can be enjoyed streaming online without masks or social distancing.
The first and last concerts in the festival series were performed and recorded before a live audience at Queens College in New York just before COVID-19 necessitated a shutdown of public events, sheltering in place, and all the rest. Others were performed in homes of the artists, a concept many of us have become familiar with by way of TV and Zoom. Most of the concerts feature the usual suspects festival patrons have come to know over the decades, including co-artistic directors Marcy Rosen, a cellist, and violinist Catherine Cho.
All concerts begin streaming at 5:30 p.m. and remain available for viewing for 24 hours afterward.
The festival opener on June 4, streaming until about six on Friday, June 5, was recorded March 6 in Queens with Rosen accompanied by pianist Diane Walsh, performing sonatas by Beethoven and Chopin. The third movement of the Chopin piece, Rosen declared in opening remarks recorded for festival viewers, is “perfect.” We won’t argue with her assessment, which isn’t to say the Beethoven is not also a revelation as performed here. In fact, it was a revelation back in 1796 when he composed two sonatas for cello and piano, which were unprecedented as the cello had not yet been liberated as a lead instrument. His Opus 5 Adagio opens slowly, almost mournfully, before rising in intensity. It then settles into a melodic flow accented by piano teardrop notes in answer to dramatic cello flourishes.
The next movement, suggests an emotional outburst with its, at times, frenetic pace. Walsh’s keyboard skills are evident without dominating. The Rondo, with its ferocious finish, is a test for the most accomplished cellists of this or any era. Rosen shows who’s master by taming the dense anxiety of these passages for the more hopeful final Allegro as if gliding with acceleration to a happy ending.
Beethoven named his two cello/piano sonatas for the King of Prussia, an amateur cellist himself, in hopes of a reward. We think he deserved better than the gold snuff-box that was his prize—even counting the gold francs stuffed inside.
The Chopin sonata comes with a storyline implied, of course, in the music itself. But Rosen supplies a more biographical context in her remarks. The piece was written at the time of Frederic Chopin’s breakup with the woman known to her friends and intimates as Aurore. By her pen name, George Sand, she was better known as one of the leading romantic novelists of 19th century Europe. As women artists were so disdained at the time, she may not have even been published had she stuck to her birth name.
We can’t be sure from Chopin’s Opus 65 sonata who dumped whom, but considering the turmoil, he expresses in the opening Allegro, we can guess he’s the one who felt bereft. The highly emotional Scherzo reflects a swirl of self-pity and impending resentment. The third movement Largo, Rosen’s favorite, bespeaks an emotional resurrection as if to say, hey, I’ll get over it. To Rosen, it’s “perfect’ in the sense that the cello is the perfect instrument for this expression, soulfully delivered along with Walsh’s almost whispery accompaniment. The finale plays like a rush of water under the bridge, signifying life goes on.
The concert on Sunday, June 7, from the homes of various artists, offers a program of Bach and Robert Schumann.
Please go here to enjoy the concerts. A viewing tip. Some devices may require you to go directly to YouTube if the chesapeakemusic.org link doesn’t work. Just go to youtube.com and click on the Chesapeake Music logo.