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S & H International Recital Review


Janácek, Kurtág, Schumann, Kroll-Rosenbaum, Bresnick, Brahms
, André Emelianoff, Cello, Thomas Hoppe, Piano, Merkin Concert Hall, New York City, June 1, 2004 (BH)

Leos Janácek: Pohádka – A Tale (1910)
György Kurtág: Four Short Pieces for Cello Alone from Signs, Games and Messages
Robert Schumann: Mondnacht from Liederkreis, Op. 39; Five Pieces in Folk Style, Op. 102
Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum: Vis-à-vis (Homage to Schumann) (2004, world premiere)
Martin Bresnick: Ballade (2004, world premiere)
Johannes Brahms: Sonata in F Major, Op. 99

In a keenly imagined recital, André Emelianoff, one of the city’s most popular cellists, departed from his usual role as a founding member of the Da Capo Chamber Players. Here he demonstrated his skill in concocting an evening with works not only enjoyable in their own right, but works that comment upon each other.

The Janácek is a gorgeous, folk-influenced piece opening with pizzicati that Emelianoff launched into with a gutsy brio – a quality that never left him the entire evening. The work is equally demanding for the pianist, in this case the outstanding Thomas Hoppe. The mysterious Kurtág fragments that followed are part of a longer work in progress called Signs, Games and Messages (the complete recording is available on ECM). These two were well positioned with a transcription of Schumann’s song Mondnacht, followed by Five Pieces in Folk Style, gentle gems that seemed to ignite Emelianoff and his strongly attentive accompanist. It must be said at this point, however, that despite the musical intelligence on display, this fine cellist seemed to be having a bit of a rough night, with intonation problems rearing up, and hesitant attacks lending an inadvertently tentative quality to the performances.

Just before the interval, Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum introduced her new piece with a brief apology for some technical difficulties with the video element (designed by artist Chase Palmer), but after watching the result, I’m not sure what the composer (and the artist) intended, and how the result differed from what was originally planned. Before Mr. Emelianoff appeared, the room darkened and on the left wall, three larger-than-life images of him appeared, side-by-side, in red, yellow and blue – each of which then slowly cycled through other similar images of the cellist playing, changing hues in the process. Although the initial impact of this display was arresting, after a few minutes the images seemed to repeat themselves, and ultimately did not add much to the proceedings. When Mr. Emelianoff strode to center stage, I lost interest in the graphics altogether and focused solely on his playing.

As an aside, a number of concerts this season have incorporated visual elements, and in general, I am optimistic about this development, that eventually it will pay off in luring audiences into the concert hall who take visual stimuli more for granted. (I’m not suggesting this is an ideal situation, but reflecting the reality.) I say "eventually" because at the moment, it feels as if some musicians are not quite sure what they want out of the visual, and conversely, some visual artists may not get many clues from their aural counterparts. Tonight’s graphics veered perilously toward being "background" for the music. In any case, Mr. Emelianoff should be congratulated for plunging into a nebulous area that will eventually pay off when each art form comments on the other more directly, creating a result – a whole – that is greater than either component experienced separately.

Noted composer Martin Bresnick brought forth an engaging new piece using (to these ears) Brahmsian chords, moods and structures. Ballade is brief, maybe ten minutes, but covers a great deal of territory, its moods ranging from capriciousness to melancholy, before finally settling on a gorgeous chord of repose. Bresnick is perhaps under-appreciated, since the path he follows has little to do with severe modernist leanings. Frankly, I like his romantic streak, and his pursuit of sounds that seem familiar, yet somehow are not. It made a fine companion to the (actual) Brahms that followed.

Bruce Hodges


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