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Sarah E. Geller in Baltimore

As previewed last week, violinist and Ionarts friend Sarah E. Geller played a recital in Baltimore on Sunday. We were saddened to see that none of our assorted Charm City associates made it out to hear her, but there was a score of people who did. The venue, An die Musik LIVE, is a converted townhouse on N. Charles Street, with a record store and little cafe on the ground floor. If you go upstairs, there is a small, bright yellow hall for concerts, with very comfortable and elegant chairs that made Mrs. Ionarts and me feel like nobles at a private entertainment. It is an intimate setting, perfect for chamber music or a Lieder recital, for example. I understand that director Henry Wong sells many more tickets for his jazz and world music concerts, but I applaud him for taking the chance on young classical performers, too.

The program is called "Florestan and Eusebius," reflecting the two opposing sides of Robert Schumann's character, one heroic and inclined toward action and the other contemplative and lost in reverie. Sarah Geller and pianist Vladimir Valjarevic began with two pieces by the Schumann's, Clara's Drei Romanzen, op. 22, and Robert's A minor sonata, op. 105, and the latter is the former's model. The playing was sensitive but perhaps just not particularly inspired by the music, which fell somewhat flat, with some minor tuning problems. Valjarevic did quite well considering the poor quality of the piano, which had a terrible plinky quality in the upper octaves. This is the first thing that has to change for these concerts to improve.

Fritz KreislerWhere the musicians truly came to life was on the last piece of the first half, the op. 28 Notturno e Tarantella (1915) by Karol Szymanowski (1882–1937). Both violinist and pianist seemed more at ease with the idioms of the late 19th century than the inward-looking Schumann pieces. As if to underscore her comfort with it, this was the only piece that Sarah played from memory. From its enigmatic double-stopped opening, her tone was rich and chocolatey, with a dark, somewhat reedy or woody quality that had a little Jascha coloring, something gypsyish, in it. Here her E-string tone in passages that were intended to evoke cantillation was potent and sure over the balalaika-like tremolos of the piano. The harmonies of this music could give the impression of being tonal and then instantly dissolve into Mephistophelian dissonance.

Both players' strengths were still on display for the long piece of the second half, César Franck's A major sonata, a luscious and fascinating work dedicated to the great Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe and first performed by him in 1886. The piece opens with a musing theme presented over tonally extended chords in the piano, a motif that is treated cyclically throughout the four movements. Valjarevic handled the very Romantic toccata workout heroically, and Geller's tone was warm and lovely in the long unaccompanied sections of the third movement. Although most of the piece is in a tragic spirit, the fourth movement (Allegretto poco mosso) is a sunny dialogue of piano and violin in canonic statement, with a return to the main motif. After this very good performance, the duo stuck to their best stylistic period and offered us the Liebesleid of another great late Romantic violinist, Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962).

There are more classical concerts at An Die Musik LIVE! coming up for our readers in Balmer. In fact, we have just received the announcement of their new Evolution Contemporary Music Series, organized by composer-in-residence Judah E. Adashi, focused on classical music by living composers. The inaugural concert will be given by the Arc Duo (flutist Heather Holden and guitarist Bradley Colten), performing music by Judah Adashi, Robert Beaser, Astor Piazzolla, and Joan Tower. That's Friday, November 18, at 8 pm, with a preconcert lecture/discussion with Judah Adashi at 7:15 pm. We hope our Charm City friends will let us know how it goes.


Anonymous said...

I hope the Szymanowski didn't make you thirsty (ref to your comment in previous posting). I loved it. Regarding that piano, a squeaky pedal marred a performance earlier this year, but they rectified that. Pianist Eric Le Sage, who has recorded with flautist Emmanuel Pahud, will be there next week. The jazz concerts are more popular, but a classical performance with the Baltimore Symphony's concertmaster, Jonathan Carney, did sell out this summer.

Mark Barry said...

I was sad to miss the performance also. Sunday was a very full day, sun, beer, sun, pumpkins, beer, goblins.....

Anonymous said...

The Astral Winds concert also sold out this summer...and started a half hour late because there was so many people in line.

rb said...

that sounds like a lovely place for chamber music

and the Fritz Kreisler site you've linked to is wonderful

Charles T. Downey said...

Clayton, thanks for coming to the concert! Everyone else, thanks for the comments.