Classicopia’s final summer concert featured Anna Wittstruck on cello with Daniel Weiser collaborating on the piano. The indefatigable Dr. Weiser continues to flood the Asheville area with chamber music performed in comfortable, relaxed, informal venues. This concert was held at the Altamont Theatre, Asheville’s recently opened not-for-profit performance venue. The Altamont, at 18 Church Street, seats 120 at tables in a black-box musical theater. The “shoebox” is one of those tried-and-true shapes that lends acoustic quality to small performance spaces and appears to work quite well in this case. The space is equipped with heavy draperies, which reduce the reverberation time and benefit the spoken word in theatrical events, but which cause the acoustics to be a little dry. Certainly acceptable, and not at all quirky, but a little dry. Dr. Weiser kept the cover closed on the piano, and I wondered if this was wise; having the lid up might have given the sound more resonance.
This concert attracted an almost-capacity audience. The key to this was the “home town” crowd attracted by the soloist, who left a broad swath in our musical community even before departing for college. I first saw Anna Wittstruck as a precocious fifteen-year-old who won the Young Artist competition and soloed with the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra. Her early studies with Frances Duff in Asheville were supplemented by study with Martha Gerschefski, thanks to her mother’s willingness to chauffeur her to Atlanta for lessons. For four years, she was the youngest contracted member of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra. She spent a year at the North Carolina School of the Arts, appeared on NPR’s “From the Top,” and received her undergraduate music degree from Princeton University. Currently she is pursuing a doctorate in musicology at Stanford University.
She has lots of local fans, and rightfully so. Wittstruck displays warmth of tone across the octaves, and an intelligence in her approach to chamber music that leads to nuanced performances. Thinking back afterward, I realized that I had heard a totally romantic concert without once having the performers descend into schmaltz. It was romanticism at its best.
The Cello Sonata in A minor is Edvard Grieg’s largest piece of chamber music. Like his Piano Concerto, it is in A minor and uses Norwegian folk melodies. The second movement, marked Andante molto tranquillo, contains a great deal of rubato and rolled chords on the piano. These are details that can easily be overdone, but were held properly in check by the performers. The third movement is Grieg’s attempt to be playful, not something natural to the somber Norwegian temperament. Perhaps because my first two music teachers were Icelandic-Canadians, I have always held Grieg in more esteem than many do, and was pleased that this performance showed his sonata to good advantage.
The third movement of the Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano opened the second half of the concert. The two instruments are treated equally, and many themes are introduced by the piano. Wittstruck made the most of her gorgeous low register, and the movement ended with a final pianissimo that caused audience members to forget to breathe.
Richard Strauss wrote his Sonata for Cello and Piano when he was eighteen. The first movement reminds one of Brahms (except there are no hemiolas). Strauss’s youth shows in this work, especially in a self-conscious fugue, but so does his budding genius. This was my first live hearing of the work, and I compliment Classicopia and its artists for once again introducing me to less-known literature.
Ms. Winnstruck is co-principal cellist in the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, whose co-concertmaster is William Joo. Mr. Joo was in Asheville to visit the Winnstruck family, and joined the other two musicians on stage for the final work: the “Winter” movement from Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons for piano trio. One only wished that Joo and Winnstruck were able to stay on another week to join Weiser in a complete piano trio program. Perhaps another day.