Jumppanen and Cerovsek open Beethoven cycle with symbiotic teamwork
Pianist Paavali Jumppanen and violinist Corey Cerovsek are as much at ease conversing with each other through music as with words. That was certainly the impression gathered Sunday afternoon when the duo performed insightful and mesmerizing renderings of Beethoven’s first four sonatas for violin and piano at Gardner Museum’s Calderwood Hall.
Playing from memory and with crystal-clear precision, the duo possesses a strong chemistry. It was as if they were two old friends engaged in a lengthy and profound conversation, where one was able to finish the thoughts of the other.
That’s because they are intimately familiar with Beethoven’s violin sonatas. The Finnish pianist and Canadian violinist teamed up a decade ago to offer a complete series of the works at the Gardner. Since then they have collaborated on a recording of the complete set for Claves.
Sunday’s recital, their first in a new Gardner series of the sonata cycle, kicked off with the enterprising Op. 12 and Op. 23 works.
Completed in 1798 and dedicated to Antonio Salieri, Beethoven’s three sonatas of Op. 12 expand upon eighteenth-century notions of the genre. The influence of Mozart is omnipresent, where thematic material is equally dispersed in clear textures between the two instruments. But Beethoven, here, was already exploring greater emotional depth in this intimate repertoire.
It’s hard to imagine today that Beethoven’s early forays into the violin sonata were met with skepticism by contemporary critics, one of whom complained in 1799 that they “are heavily laden with unusual difficulties,” and, more prophetically, that “Beethoven is going his own way, but what an eccentric, tortuous way it is.”
Jumpannen and Cerovsek tastefully went their own way as well, bringing out the intensity and subtle levels of light and shade baked into these works. Throughout, Jumpannen played with sweet, singing sound and delicate touch, Cerovsek with a silvery violin tone that was capable of portraying both the music’s playful and more dramatic, yearning lines.
The first chords of the Sonata in D major, Op. 12 No. 1, set the tone for the afternoon as Jumpannen and Cerovsek easily traded the movement’s lofty phrases, rounding them with fine sensitivity. Their delicate phrasing, moreover, brought the music’s overall structure into focus: rests in the second-movement variations became especially clear and gave the music dramatic weight.
The duo maintained high energy in the more light-hearted Sonata in A major, Op. 12 No. 2., a work that opens with a jocular, scherzo-like theme that later disperses into slow, meandering lines barbed with light chromaticism.
The Sonata in E-flat major, which Beethoven intended as the climax to Op. 12, gave the two musicians a chance to flex their technical muscle. They proved to be capable showmen as they handled the interchanging lines of the third movement rondo with finesse. Only sparingly did Cerovsek develop a sharp-edged sound to his otherwise warm and lyrical tone, a result, perhaps, of over expression.
The duo closed with the angst-ridden Sonata in A minor, Op. 23, a work that Lewis Lockwood calls “the neglected child in the family of the ten sonatas.”
It is indeed a darker take on the violin-piano medium than those of Op. 12. The tension and energy Beethoven poured into this work from 1800—an early product of his troubled Heiligenstadt years—foreshadows the Promethean density and power he would etch into the “Kreutzer” sonata.
Jumpannen and Cerovsek tackled the work with characteristic synergy that left many in the audience awe-struck. Even the sonata’s introspective ending did not keep listeners from lavishing warm applause and “bravos” upon these two talented performers.
The Gardner Museum’s Sunday Concert Series will feature the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in works by Beethoven, Mozart, and Martinu January 20 at 1:30 p.m. Jumpannen and Cerovsek will present Beethoven’s Op. 24 and Op. 30 sonatas on the Sunday Series, 1:30 p.m. April 7. gardnermuseum.org
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