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Kennedy Center Chamber Players Beethoven Marathon I

Lambert Orkis and David Hardy (photo by Margaret Ingoldsby Schulman)
Sunday afternoon, National Symphony Orchestra Principal Cellist David Hardy joined forces with pianist Lambert Orkis for a marathon double program of duos at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Ionarts was able attend the first program, played on replicas of period instruments. The replica of a 1788 Dulcken fortepiano made by Thomas and Barbara Wolf makes regular appearances in the Washington area and suited perfectly the early works of Beethoven that comprised the first half of the program.

As Orkis remarked in verbal program notes, Beethoven was the first composer to write for cello and piano alone, tactfully writing the Sonata in F (op. 5, no. 1) for King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, who was apparently a decent cellist. Hardy performed on a gut-stringed replica of his usual 1694 Testore instrument, made in 2000 by his father. Beethoven clearly simplified the cello part to allow the king to save face, while the piano part is exceedingly busy. Even if Orkis faced technical challenges with the instrument, this was an opportunity for many to hear the dynamic context of a fortepiano with a quick, light action, supremely quiet pianissimos with the moderator, and soundboard resembling more a snare drum than a large, resonant piece of wood. Hardy never seemed to achieve the gorgeously robust tone he is known for in the NSO, leading one to wonder if the instrument was flawed or if Hardy, in an attempt at historically informed performance (HIP) practice, just underplayed. However, this would not explain Hardy’s intonation issues, lack of varieties of tone, and narrow dynamic range.

Other Reviews:

Mark J. Estren, A Winning Time for All In a Beethoven Marathon (Washington Post, February 17)
Orkis switched to a replica of early 19th-century “models” made by Regier of Maine (with three strings per note, over the Dulcken copy’s two) for the later Beethoven, in the second half of the program. The Regier instrument’s larger size and warm sound were ideal for Beethoven’s lovely Sonata in A Major, op. 69. Orkis seemed to run circles around Hardy in terms of musical leadership, leaving one pleased to hear the wonderful repertoire, yet wishing for equally persuasive playing from both performers that better resonated within the room. Perhaps the second performance of the afternoon’s “marathon” on modern instruments was more evenly balanced. The two sets of variations on the program -- a tune by Handel in See the conqu’ring hero comes and Mozart in Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen -- could have had further distinction in character between each variation. Generally, HIP forays should be left to specialists.

The next chamber music concert at the Kennedy Center will feature the Post-Classical Ensemble with soprano Harolyn Blackwell, next Sunday (March 1, 7:30 pm).

1 comment:

Michael Pakaluk said...

I was puzzled by the apparently the same "intonation issues, lack of varieties of tone, and narrow dynamic range" in the second, 4:30 pm program, which I attended.

In the written notes, as you know, Hardy explained that, in accordance with HIP, he was experimenting with light use of vibrato and less string pressure. I suppose it's more difficult to make a string sound as though perfectly in tune without vibrato, and the sound can never be very deep without losing beauty.

I suspect balance was even more of a problem than in the first program, since the gut-stringed 17th c cello (not the replica) was entirely outmatched by the modern Steinway.