The Carol Woods Retirement Community has a very active music culture with regular Wednesday night concerts. This "extra" Monday night concert featured a pair of frequent performers on their series. Violinist Katharina Uhde is an Assistant Professor of Music at Valparaiso University in Indiana while pianist and musicologist R. Larry Todd is Arts & Sciences Prorfessor of Music at Duke University. Todd, author of the definitive Mendelssohn: A Life in Music, mentored Uhde's dissertation on Joseph Joachim for her PhD in musicology. His own work served as a model for Uhde's own soon-to-be published study of the great 19th century violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim (1831-1907).
Most of this concert focused upon a broad sampling of works by the first significant American woman composer Amy Beach, born Amy Marcy Cheney (1867-1944). Todd prefaced the concert with biographical background. She toured widely as a piano virtuoso until her marriage at age 18 to Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, M.D. Society frowned upon "ladies" touring, but her relatively enlightened husband gave her complete freedom to compose at will. During 25 years of marriage, she composed her Gaelic Symphony, a substantial piano concerto, a piano quintet, and many shorter works, both instrumental and vocal. Widowed at age 43, she went to Germany to present her scores and to revive her career as a pianist under the name Amy Beach. She completed some 300 works, and recordings have begun to help give her her due as a significant composer.
Todd opened the program with "Dreaming," No. 3 from Four Sketches for Piano, Op. 15 (1892), by the 16-year-old Beach. It features some surprising progressions and unusual configurations in the movement of the bass line. Todd brought out the ethereal, impressionist opening which builds in intensity before again relaxing. Its atmosphere was perfectly evoked.
Beach's Romance in A Minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 34 (1893), brought Uhde on stage to join Todd. It was composed for another pioneer, Maud Powell, the first American woman to have a successful career as a major violin virtuoso. This Romance was premiered at the 1893 World Exposition in Chicago by Powell and Beach. Uhde and Todd spun out a seamless flow of melodies that ranged from hushed pp to intense mf. Uhde played with full, rich warm tone, a wide palette of color, and superb intonation. Todd provided an intense, dramatic "cradle" of support for the violin line.
Uhde introduced the next work, a sampling from a restoration work-in-progress, Hungarian Fantasy (1850) by the 19-year-old Joseph Joachim. It was composed as a vehicle for establishing his career as a virtuoso and appears to be packed with his sure-fire technical difficulties. Uhde related the elaborate history of the score, "lost" since 1852. It was last seen briefly by a scholar after Joachim's death and was presumed to have been among gifts to a Berlin Library. Materials were dispersed to various Polish archives during WWII and it was in limbo until Uhde found it in Poland in 2016. Her article about the showpiece will appear in the September 2017 issue of Musical Times while the full resurrection of the piece with its orchestration will take place in Michigan in October. Uhde's exploration of some spectacular violin fireworks whet the appetite for its forthcoming full orchestral performances.
Beach's massive Sonata in A Minor, Op. 34 (1996), may owe much to the forms and style of Johannes Brahms, but nothing can hide her own creative individuality. Along with her symphony and piano concerto, it is one of her most important scores. It shares with Brahms an autumnal seriousness and consists of four movements following the classical model. The sonata form Allegro moderato has a somber tone and shifts between lyrical melody, meditative reflection, and dramatic display. The extended scherzo-like second movement sandwiches playfulness around a lovely chorale in the trio section. The Largo con dolore progressed from deep sorrow through an energetic section before a serene ending. The demanding finale, marked Allegro con fuoco, rapidly shifts between passionate minor episodes and songful ones before a fugal section interrupts and then turmoil resolves in A.
Uhde and Todd brought plenty of intensity and stamina to their excellent performance of Beach's magnificent sonata. Uhde's intonation and refined control of phasing were outstanding. Todd gave plenty of weight to Beach's skilled scoring for piano. Their interpretation of the trio within the second movement scherzo was especially memorable.
Maybe, with additional players, Uhde and Todd might tackle Beach's Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op.67 someday?
This program will be repeated in a lecture context at Duke on Apr. 27 at 6:00 p.m. For details, see the sidebar.