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Wednesday night the quartet Jazz Classique – John Mochnick (piano), Roberto Orihuela (vibraphone), Matt Kendrick (bass) and John Wilson (drums) – performed works by Beethoven and his teachers: Haydn, Albrechtsberger, and Salieri. The large and appreciative crowd of about 75 people filled the Piedmont Music Center's showroom.
According to the group's website, the ensemble of four crack musicians brings "a touch of class, a dash of sophistication, and a pinch of swing" to music making, and this performance featured jazz arrangements based on classical music repertoire.
For example, a nicely paced Allegretto (the second movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92) began with the tune exactly as the composer had written it, albeit here arranged for piano and double bass. Vibraphone joined for the first variation, but thereafter, the foursome broke into a mix of what seemed to be a jazz arrangement with aspects of improvisation. The theme returned to close out the selection.
Beethoven's famous first movement of the "Moonlight" Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 followed the same pattern, as the opening bars were presented by piano and bass, this time using the bow. Again, the vibraphonist Orihuela joined, sharing the main part of the tune with the piano. When the improv began, however, Kendrick put down his bow and joined drummer Wilson, providing punch to the proceedings.
Not many people have probably heard of Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736-1809), but he helped Beethoven learn counterpoint, a compositional technique for the simultaneous presentation of independent lines. So, it was not a surprise that Jazz Classique performed Albrechtsberger's Organ Prelude in E-flat, in which all four musicians took turns laying out the theme, resulting in a fugue. The occasional smiles appearing on the musicians' faces attested to the fun they were having as they dove into the swing rhythm of the improv.
The gorgeous slow movement from Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73, "Emperor" brought the tempo down a notch. Beginning with piano, all four soon joined in. And during the improvisation, a familiar tune served as the basis. (Was that "Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine" from Showboat by Jerome Kern?).
The first half of the performance concluded with the "Scherzi instrumentali a 4" by Antonio Salieri (1750-1825), who was made famous in the film Amadeus, but who also served as a teacher of Italian opera to Beethoven. The "a 4" in the title means the piece is written for four solo lines. In this version, two solos were featured in the piano, one in the bass, and one on vibraphone.
The second half of the concert was devoted to compositions by Beethoven with the exception of a movement of a Haydn (1732-1809) symphony. An arrangement of the brisk (and somewhat humorous) first movement of Beethoven's String Quartet in F, Op. 18, No. 1 had the piano and vibraphone exchanging motives.
Anyone who has taken piano lessons for a while has probably played "Für Elise" (also catalogued as Bagatelle No. 25). The piece begins with an alternating half-step before the melody is accompanied by rolling arpeggios. However, in this version, Kendrick offered a bass solo before the familiar tune was taken up by piano and vibraphone. The soulful improv in the middle section added contrast.
The first movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 88 in G began with a slow intro, initiated by the piano, then all joined in for the fast section. Kendrick had a generous solo, and the arrangement also allowed for drummer Wilson to strut his stuff. The unison/octave riffs of bass, vibraphone, and piano (both here and in other selections) were impressively performed.
The beautiful middle movement of the "Pathetique" Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 served as the basis for a lovely arrangement that contained many of the melodies contained in the original. The last work on the program, the third movement Menuetto from Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21 brought the successful evening to a close with great spirit and energy.
According to Mochnick, who penned all the arrangements and served as spokesperson for the group, this concert was planned last year, for Beethoven's 250th birthday celebration. It was a performance worth waiting for, on the composer's 251st anniversary.