Explore The Music
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STRAVINSKY: Suite Italienne for Violin and Piano
Born Oranienbaum, near St. Petersburg, June 17, 1882; died New York, April 6, 1971
Suite Italienne for Violin and Piano
Composed in 1932; 17 minutes
Igor Stravinsky was never one to rest on his rather wide-ranging laurels. As a young composer, he had already caught the attention of Rimsky-Korsakov and the great Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, and ballet scores like Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911) established him as the leading composer of his generation. Then his score for Rite of Spring (1913) scandalized the European music and dance worlds, opening the door for radical innovations in rhythm and harmony in 20th-century music.
But even before other composers had stepped through that door, Stravinsky slammed it shut with a turn to audacious simplicity and the ascetic neo-classicism that would set the tone for French music of the inter-war period. This was a time in which Stravinsky dabbled not only with late 18th-century forms and style features, but also those of the Baroque, Renaissance, and even Medieval eras. And this “looking back” was as much “anti-romantic” as it was neoclassical.
Though there are several major works by Stravinsky that could lay claim to being his first “neoclassical” composition, the strongest case might be made for his 1920 score, Pulcinella, a ballet for Diaghilev in the commedia dell-arte tradition (with sets and costumes by Picasso), based on music thought at the time to have been written by the late Baroque Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Stravinsky said, “Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible. It was a backward look, of course—the first of many love affairs in that direction—but it was a look in the mirror, too."
Stravinsky arranged some of the instrumental movements from the ballet into the Pulcinella Suite. Then he arranged another suite for violin and piano of music from the ballet in 1925 for the violinist Paul Kochanski. And in 1932/33 he based another work on this music, the Suite Italienne in versions for cello and piano (for Gregor Piatigorsky) and violin and piano (for Samuel Dushkin).
The first two movements in the Suite Italienne are drawn from the opening of the ballet. The Introduzione, somewhat gentler than its orchestral counterpart, is a mostly literal transcription with occasional “wrong-note” dissonances and open-fifth drones typical of French neoclassicism, but with its 18th-century elegance intact. The Serenata that follows is a poignant lament, cut from the same cloth as passages from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. The lively Tarentella: Vivace and the ensuing Gavotte con due variazioni come from the end of the ballet. Here Stravinsky begins to inject more of his own modernistic harmonies, jagged ostinati and angular rhythms into the mix.
The Scherzino is less overtly Baroque in its language, with something of the Central European folk style to it. The piano then introduces a calm minuet whose unruffled surface is broken by scotch-snap rhythms and spicy harmonizations. This moves seamlessly into the Finale which sounds as if it could have been lifted straight from Petrushka, so clearly does it evoke Stravinsky’s musical language.
© 2012 Luke Howard
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BEETHOVEN: Sonata for Piano and Cello in A major, Op. 69
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Born Bonn, baptized December 17, 1770; died Vienna, March 26, 1827
Sonata for Piano and Cello in A major, Op. 69
Composed between 1807-08; 26 minutes
Through the 18th century the cello had long been regarded as an accompanimental instrument, due largely to its prominent role in the basso continuo. Cellos were especially disadvantaged, then, in late 18th-century sonatas for piano and cello, where they often did little more than double the piano’s left hand. (This was at a time when any sonata for piano and another instrument was already considered essentially a piano sonata “with accompaniment.”) It was in Beethoven’s cello sonatas that the cello began to be revealed as a true solo melodic instrument, featured more prominently in the sonata texture as the piano occasionally stepped out of the limelight.
Beethoven wrote a couple of brief (two-movement) sonatas for piano and cello in 1796. It was another twelve years before he wrote a third sonata in 1808. He then produced two more, composed together between 1812 and 1817 (an especially dark and unproductive period in Beethoven’s life) and published as his Op. 102. But it is the Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69, that has become the best known and most performed of the five.
This is one of Beethoven’s characteristic middle-period works—an exact contemporary of the Violin Concerto and the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies—where formal innovations and surprises, in addition to newly-devised unifying devices, are to be expected. In this sonata, a Scherzo replaces the traditional slow movement (a feature sometimes seen in the composer’s piano sonatas as well) and the finale begins unusually with a slow introduction. All the balances and contrasts from the classical period are there—they’ve simply been rearranged according to Beethoven’s idiosyncratic but musically astute imagination.
The first movement (Allegro, ma non tanto) opens with the solo cello presenting an expansive open-ended theme in its lower register. A stormy passage in A minor follows, introducing a lyrical second theme in the dominant (E major) that provides plenty of material for contrapuntal interplay and motivic development, a core trait of the composer’s middle period. After the recapitulation, an expanded coda then functions like a second development section.
That A-minor interlude in the first movement predicts the key of the Scherzo that follows, a unifying technique also typical of Beethoven’s middle period. The Scherzo theme, heavily syncopated, frames two statements of a bucolic Trio.
The finale is preceded by a short introduction, a mere vestige of a ravishing cantabile slow movement, before the cello announces the main theme of the sprightly sonata-allegro finale. The second theme, mostly scales and repeated chords, dominates in the unusually (for Beethoven) brief and succinct coda.
© 2012 Luke Howard
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FAURÉ: Quartet for Piano and Strings No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15
Born Pamiers, France, May 12, 1845; died Paris, November 4, 1924
Quartet for Piano and Strings No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15
Composed between 1876-79, rev. 1883; 32 minutes
Throughout his career, Gabriel Fauré witnessed a tremendous evolution in musical style, from Chopin’s early Romanticism to Schoenberg’s atonal experiments. Through it all, he remained fundamentally conservative, and as a result he is often overshadowed by his more adventurous contemporaries, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, and Ravel. Fauré rarely composed in the large-scale orchestral genres that were popular during his lifetime—he published no symphonies or concertos, and his two operas are rather modest in proportion. His only works to have remained in the popular repertoire are the Requiem (noted for its emotional restraint and chamberistic accompaniment), a short Pavane for orchestra and some songs. Though he admired Wagner’s music tremendously, he was one of the few composers of his generation who managed to avoid falling under the spell of Wagnerism, his clearheaded classicism epitomizing the French ideal of “le bon goût” (or “good taste”). And like Chopin, he refused even to give expressive titles to his works.
Despite a reputation as something of a miniaturist, Fauré produced only six major chamber works: two piano quartets, two piano quintets, a piano trio and a late string quartet. In his chamber works more than anywhere else, Fauré’s melodic lines are long and lithe, a legacy of his study of Gregorian chant. And it was also this exposure to chant that opened up the possibilities of modality to the composer, enriching the palette of both his melodic and harmonic style.
Fauré’s C-minor Piano Quartet—perhaps his best-known chamber work—was begun in 1876, completed in 1879 and revised in 1883. In it he retains the classical four-movement format, which worked perfectly well for him even with his own Romantic-styled themes. Despite the minor key, the quartet is remarkably positive in tone and manifests little of the personal distress the composer felt at the time of its composition, having just broken off his engagement with Marianne Viardot.
The first movement (Allegro molto moderato) opens with a sturdy unison melody, somewhat in the manner of Brahms, before moving to the relative major (E-flat major) for a delicate and lyrical counter-theme. The rest of the movement plays out in traditional sonata-allegro form. Fauré felt that the quartet’s balance was best served by following this opening movement with a sparkling Scherzo (Allegro vivo) as the second movement, paired with an equally jaunty Trio.
If there is any of the composer’s personal sadness in this music, it is found in the slow movement (Adagio), cast as a pavane. It is tragic without wallowing—not the black darkness of despair but the light gray haziness of an emotional fog—with a more wistful and poignant central section. The finale (Allegro molto) then begins with stormy rising scales in C minor that leap unevenly upwards. The same rhythmic ideas inform the more optimistic second theme, and after both themes are smartly combined, the quartet reaches a triumphant conclusion.
© 2012 Luke Howard
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Performing for over five decades before audiences across the globe, Jaime Laredo has excelled in the multiple roles of soloist, conductor, recitalist, pedagogue, and chamber musician. He made a stunning orchestral debut at the age of eleven with the San Francisco Symphony, and at the age of 17, he won the prestigious Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition, launching his rise to international prominence.
In demand worldwide as a conductor and a soloist, Mr. Laredo has held the position of Music Director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra since 1999 and artistic director of the Chamber Music at 92Y series since 1974. In 2009, Mr. Laredo and his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson, were named artistic directors of the Linton Chamber Music Series in Cincinnati, OH. Last season marked the 35th anniversary of The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, one of the foremost piano trios in the world, founded by Mr. Laredo, Ms. Robinson and pianist Joseph Kalichstein. Mr. Laredo and Ms. Robinson also frequently perform together as the Laredo-Robinson Duo.
Mr. Laredo has recorded nearly one hundred discs. He has received the Deutsche Schallplatten Prize, he has won a Grammy Award for a disc of Brahms Piano Quartets which he performed with Emanuel Ax, Isaac Stern and Yo-Yo Ma, and he has received seven Grammy nominations. A deeply respected educator, Mr. Laredo leads the annual New York String Orchestra Seminar at Carnegie Hall and the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Last fall, both Mr. Laredo and Ms. Robinson assumed chairs at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
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Steven Tenenbom’s impeccable style and sumptuous tone have combined to make him one of the most respected violists performing today. A frequent guest on the Chamber Music at 92Y series, he performed in last December’s celebration of artistic director Jaime Laredo’s 70th birthday.
Mr. Tenenbom has appeared as guest artist with the Guarneri and Emerson string quartets, and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson and Beaux Arts trios. As a soloist, he has appeared with the Utah Symphony, the Rochester Philharmonic and the Brandenburg Ensemble. Mr. Tenenbom is the violist of the Orion String Quartet, the quartet in residence of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Mannes College of Music and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. He is also a co-founder of the piano quartet, OPUS ONE.
Born in Phoenix, Mr. Tenenbom is a member of the viola faculty of The Juilliard School and The Bard College Conservatory of Music. He is also is the Coordinator of String Chamber Music of The Curtis Institute of Music. His recent recordings of the complete Beethoven quartets with the Orion Quartet are available on Koch International. Married to violinist Ida Kavafian, the Tenenboms live in Connecticut where they breed, raise and show champion Vizsla purebred dogs.
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Winner of the Avery Fisher Recital Award, Piatigorsky Memorial Award and Pro Musicis Award, cellist Sharon Robinson appears around the world as a recitalist, concerto soloist, chamber musician and member of the Laredo-Robinson Duo with her husband, violinist Jaime Laredo, and The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. Her guest solo appearances have included the Philadelphia and Minnesota orchestras; the Helsinki and Los Angeles philharmonics; and the English and Franz Liszt chamber orchestras. Her festival appearances have included Prague’s Autumn Festival, where she performed Dvořák’s Cello Concerto at the famous Dvořák Hall.
Ms. Robinson works closely with many of today’s leading composers, including Ned Rorem, Arvo Pärt, Stanley Silverman and André Previn. She is recognized for building consortiums of presenters to commission new works. For example, for the Kalichstein- Laredo-Robinson Trio’s 35th anniversary, she gathered 12 presenters to commission Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Quintet.
Ms. Robinson’s CDs include the Vivaldi Cello Sonatas on Vox and a Grenadilla disc of solo cello works by Debussy, Faure and Rorem. Last October, the Laredo-Robinson Duo released an album of three double concertos in celebration of their 35th wedding anniversary on the BRIDGE label. Ms. Robinson is also a renowned teacher; last fall, both Ms. Robinson and Mr. Laredo assumed chairs at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
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Winner of 2011’s prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, pianist Benjamin Hochman has earned widespread acclaim for his performances with the New York, Israel and Prague philharmonics and the San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Houston symphonies, among others. He has performed in recital at the Louvre, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall and Suntory Hall in Tokyo; he made his 92Y recital debut in April 2011.
An avid chamber musician, Mr. Hochman has collaborated with the Tokyo, Mendelssohn and Casals quartets, and with Miklós Perényi and Cho-Liang Lin. A regular guest at 92Y, last season, he participated a Chamber Music at 92Y program that honored Jaime Laredo’s 70th birthday. Among his music festivals appearances are Marlboro, Ravinia, Lucerne, Prussia Cove and Klavierfestival Ruhr.
In 2009, Mr. Hochman released his first album on Artek featuring two Bach Keyboard Partitas alongside works by Berg and Webern. His recording of solo works by Schubert, Kurtág and Jörg Widmann, will be released by Avie next year.
Born in Jerusalem, Mr. Hochman is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Mannes College of Music. This fall, he joins the faculty of the Longy School of Music in Boston. His website is benjaminhochman.com