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All Beethoven at Music Mountain

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Aug 13th, 2017

Alla Aranovskaya, Tao Lin, and Claudio Jaffe

The St. Petersburg Piano Quartet (formerly the St. Petersburg Quartet) offered an all-Beethoven program this past Sunday afternoon amid perfect summer weather. Gordon Hall was full to capacity with its new air-conditioning system fully operational. Skies were nearly cloudless with radiant sunshine; on a mountain top one felt closer to the transcendental face of nature.

Alla Aranovskaya on violin and Tao Lin on piano led with Sonata for Piano and Violin #5 in F major, Op. 24. Composed around 1801 this early sonata is notable for its vibrant depiction of nature as well as adding a fourth movement to the traditional sonata format. Nicknamed “Spring,” this sonata remains one of the more openly extroverted of Beethoven’s compositions. After the delightful Allegro, dramatic tension arrives in the succeeding Adagio which presents more interior reflection and questioning, an aspect that Aranovskaya delivered with tender tension. On piano Tao Linn broadly captured the extroverted line that ran in tandem contrast. In the Scherzo this contrast between violin and piano became more evident, as if to ask the listener which instrument contrived the more important voice. The concluding Rondo permitted each instrument to disagree and digress into distant tonalities as they competed with each other before arriving at mutual agreement. This was a competitive meta-musical debate that concluded with mutual respect, a climax that rang with affirmative energy.

Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70 (1808), often laboring under the burdensome nickname of “Ghost,” presents the traditional three movement structure with the notable second movement that acquired the moniker. While cellist Claudio Jaffe supplied solid support, Aranovskya expertly exploited this movement’s mysterious slow resonance. Some have speculated in a bizarre way that this movement has something to do with Shakespeare, yet it is merely a generic, dramatic, Gothic meditation produced by a bout of insomnia during a moonlit night when winds occasionally rattled cottage shutters. The lively Allegro that opened this piece appears to record a merry dinner conversation followed by the contrasting attack of nighttime insomniac willies that recede after a short nap into the concluding Presto delineating the joy of sunrise and the affable routine of morning composition that illustrates the happiness of work well-done to self-admiring satisfaction.

Piano Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 16 from 1796 was originally a Piano Quintet for Winds, yet has become popular in a transcribed string version, this being its eleventh performance at Gordon Hall. As such, it offers a pleasing variation-digression on Mozart’s jaunty Quintet in E-flat and it became one of Beethoven’s early salon successes. While exhibiting a dexterous hand at work in classical format, this delightful piece lacks the Romantic bite of Beethoven’s later works. But the original Quintet supplied Beethoven with a standard Classical set piece that he would perform to applause for the next decade of his life. Boris Vayner on viola joined the players to flush out this extroverted foray, which was dominated by the energetic rhythmic expertise of Tao Lin on piano.

While the thrust of this breezy concert emphasized Beethoven before his descent into deep Romantic passion and personal alienation, it was the two slower, darker, more meditative movements on Aranovskaya’s violin that supplied the most memorable moments of this charming sunny afternoon at Music Mountain.