Sebastian Bäverstam and Yannick Rafalimanana, June 8, 2013
J.S. Bach: Cello Suite No. 1 in G major
Ludwig van Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major, Opus 69
Johannes Brahms: Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Opus 99
It should not be risky programming to boast the “Three Bs,” but, in a time of jaded taste and programming ennui, where hunger for the novel and piquant prevails, great “meat and potatoes” can surprisingly appear as novelties.
It was Günter Pichler, the first violin of the Alban Berg Quartet who remarked that in order to record or perform a well-worn classic, you had better be sure there you had really something new to say.
In this wonderful concert at Tannery Pond, with three central works of the German-Austrian repertoire, I recalled Günter Pichler’s words and felt that two young musicians tonight took some programming risk to impart something truly unique. With a musically-seasoned audience, many would be measuring tonight’s interpretations against those by greats of the past lovingly etched and preserved in our auditory memory. By any standard, Sebastian Bäverstam and Yannick Rafalimanana demonstrated again what is meant by “classic,” namely that there are potentially inexhaustible revelations that talent can mine in brilliant works such as those selected tonight.
The Suite #1 in G major for solo cello is perhaps the best known of Bach’s six suites (S.1007-1012). Mr. Bäverstam, twenty-four, possesses a keen musical intelligence. He gave us a multifarious: each movement was uniquely fashioned in phrasing and tone. At times I imagined that each dance piece was performed by a different musician. Such was his uncanny approach, which eschewed any synoptic vision. By doing so, Mr. Bäverstam demonstrated how versatile his bowing and articulation could be through each succeeding piece. A simplicity and insouciance characterized the familiar opening Prelude, while the Allemande was performed with a strikingly pesante articulation, underscoring, perhaps ironically, the “German” roots of this dance. The Courante combined light, brisk with colorfully bowed overtones. The Sarabande, a contrast in rhythm and tempo, had a clear expressiveness, shorn of overly dramatic rhetoric. However, after a lilting Minuet, Mr. Bäverstam reserved some gutsy, “string digging” for the final Gigue.
Yannick Rafalimanana, who joined Mr. Bäverstam for the remainder of the evening, never tried to dazzle or draw attention away from the cello. Restraining his formidable technique, his limpid accompaniment was beautiful and expressive, At times I wanted to hear less restraint and more abandon, yet, as a partner to the cello’s leading visions, Mr. Rafalimanana was a perfect soul mate.
Beethoven’s cello sonatas spanned most of the years in the composer’s development and are exemplars of Beethoven’s individuality and his revolutionary reappraisal of Classical structures, symmetry and poise. No other small set of works so comprehensively sums Beethoven’s aesthetic. The third sonata is, dating from his “middle period,” is the first one of the five to sport a somewhat traditional three movement sequence, although, one can argue the slow introduction to the final rondo is a self-contained movement.
We were treated to a welcomed repeated exposition in the opening Allegro. The ardent and passionate development section provided much mood change and ultimately a sweeping lyricism. The syncopations and lurching rhythm of the Scherzo, articulated with an abiding precision, framed a mysterious and spectral central trio section. Mr. Bäverstam’s exquisite playing in the Adagio cantabile was, for me, the crowning moment of the evening.
The Brahms Sonata in F major is imbued with Bachian counterpoint and a Beethovenesque rhythmic drive and thus is a perfect summation of the evening’s previous offerings. The thrilling opening Allegro, again provided a repeated exposition; each performer must endure pages of tremolos, arpeggios and, for the cello, wide and dramatic intervallic leaps. Any moderation Mr. Rafalimanana applied in the Beethoven was released here in the turbulence of this movement. In the melodramatic Adagio affettuoso, written in the distant key of F-sharp major, Mr. Bäverstam’s melodic eloquence soared without encumbrance or force in his bowing or attack. The Allegro passionate, a scherzo, in which Brahms indulges his characteristic penchant for duple/triple hemiola, produced a metrical tension that was thrilling. The trio section (in F major), while far more subdued then the outer sections, can be too much of a contrast. Tonight, our musicians ensured that the rhythmic tension and impetus was never fully spent. In the final Allegro molto rondo, both performers were appropriately temperate and sometimes melancholic in the statement of the main theme; this holding back prepared us for the dramatically joyous conclusion.
Tannery Pond is one of the treasures of the musical summer season in this region in spite of some vitiating issues. This evening, stage lights went on and off, in a random sort of way. It was distracting to both the audience, and, I assume, the performers. There was also some restriction on handicapped parking that created a stir just before the concert. Artistic Director, Christian Steiner, and President Leslie Teicholz, take these problems in stride and continue offering the finest chamber music to a forgiving and devoted audience. Last season, there were a number of unanticipated cancellations and program changes, and it’s a testament to Mr. Steiner’s aplomb and Ms. Teicholz’s steerage in keeping their loyal following. What sets Tannery Pond Concerts apart is the way young and extraordinary artists are debuted nurtured later to reappear after their professional breakthroughs. At other venues, young artists rarely retrace their early steps, while here, they cherish those that brought them initial praise.