Music That Enchants on a Spring Evening
by Martha A. Fawbush
April 16, 2009, Raleigh, NC: The beauty of excellent ensemble playing brought great pleasure to a small but appreciative audience at Meredith College’s Carswell Hall as cellist Nancy Green and Canadian pianist Jeremy Thompson, two accomplished musicians with great international reputations, combined their talents in the performance of music seemingly composed just for them. This splendid program included music representing the great skills of composers and performers from the days of J.S. Bach to Alberto Ginastera.
Green and Thompson began their program with the exquisite Adagio from the C major Toccata for organ of Johann Sebastian Bach, adapted for cello and piano. This work has a darkly beautiful melody and harmony which from the outset allows us not only to admire the music but the musicians, who as an ensemble played as well as any performers I have heard in a long time. They also played superbly as individuals. Green evoked from her instrument a dark, rich tone with a perfect vibrato and intonation; Thompson showed himself an admirable pianist whose delicate touch and restrained use of the pedal revealed his understanding of Baroque style.
Their performance of Beethoven’s Variations on “Bei Mannern Welche Liebe Fahlen” from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute illustrated this duo’s ability to convey the niceties of Classic style. Clearly Beethoven’s treatment of the melodic beauty of the aria composed by a man he so greatly admired gave everyone in the hall a full measure of delight. The excellence of their playing also indicated Green’s and Thompson’s enjoyment of the variations Beethoven developed from the musical materials of this aria. They demonstrated their skill as ensemble players in every one of Beethoven’s witty and appealing variations, as for instance the one in which Green’s delicate bow touches provided soft but nevertheless clearly heard musical commentary on the excellence of Thompson’s playing when he took the spotlight at the piano. In all the variations these master musicians made their best of the many musical honors Beethoven provided for them. Obviously no one in the audience was disappointed in the performance.
These highly-skilled players ended the first half of their concert with the Sonata in G minor, Op. 65 of Frederic Chopin. This work allowed Thompson’s great keyboard skills to sparkle as he captured the essence of Chopin’s deeply romantic melodies, unique tonality and harmony. Throughout his performance of this demanding work, Thompson’s brilliant playing was at once deeply passionate as well as subdued and mellow. Not to be overshadowed, the cello’s deep, rich voice contributed to the passionate expressiveness dominating this work.
Both players showed their musicianship throughout their performance of Chopin’s sonata, especially in the delicacy of their phrasing. They also delighted the audience with their superb ensemble playing, which they maintained even in the most technically-difficult demands of the brilliant allegro passages, particularly in the Scherzo-allegro con brio of the third movement and the stormy Finale, highlighted by Green’s virtuosic double-stopping passages. The playing of the Largo movement, with its deliberately slow, rich melodies in phrases which the instruments sing back and forth to each other, revealed how completely Green and Thompson captured in their performance all the composer’s musical intentions.
The second half of this program began with Claude Debussy’s Sonata, made up of two movements, the "Prologue" and the "Serenade and Finale." The first part of the "Prologue" allowed both players to introduce themselves in strong phrases. In both movements some of the most appealing music was the cello’s warm, expressive melodies set against an almost mystical accompaniment in the piano. Moreover, in the "Serenade and Finale" both instrumentalists, as well as their listeners, were clearly absorbed by Debussy’s musing, atmospheric mood, sustained by the dark voice of the cello and the characteristic impressionistic harmonies of Debussy.
In contrast to this work was Alberto Ginastera’s exciting Pompeuna No.2, the final work on the program. After being carried into the impressionistic atmosphere created by Debussy, both instrumentalists and audience were awakened by Ginastera’s passionate music, which called forth even greater degrees of technical skill from this duet than they had had any reason to reveal before. This great composition insisted upon all Green’s skill, requiring her to play long, double-stopped passages, extended passionate exclamations, and passionate lines which shift from the low to high register and in so doing create great musical intensity. She also had to use her bow to strike her instrument for percussive effects. Far from being silent while Green’s great skills were displayed, Thompson thundered out on the piano the complex, difficult phrases the composer had assigned to it with supreme confidence and a full awareness of the cello’s full-voiced, varied expressions. The dynamic playing of both these artists, carried along by the spirited music of the composer, came to the appropriately powerful, crashing conclusion and in so doing brought the evening of pleasurable music to a satisfying end.