Fuse Concert Review: Emmanuel Music — Beethoven Inspires a Seriously Big Event

The Emmanuel Music concert was a seriously Big Event, as most Russell Sherman performances are, with many outstanding pianists there to hear it.

By Susan Miron

Emmanuel Music, one of Boston’s most celebrated musical gems, had plenty to celebrate this past Sunday. It was the final concert of a very successful four-year survey of Beethoven’s chamber music, and was the 84th birthday (actually five days before) of the beloved pianist Russell Sherman. In addition to turning out a generations of amazing piano students, Sherman has been an integral part of the evolution of Emmanuel Music, both in terms of his spirit and his performances. Artistic Director Ryan Turner – and the audience – was thrilled to have Sherman on stage. There was a sweet celebration at intermission – “birthday” cupcakes for everyone, a card signed by most of the audience members, even a rendition of the obligatory “Happy Birthday.” Sherman had had a bad fall months ago, so he was forced to cancel his scheduled faculty recital at New England Conservatory. On Sunday he was quite frail, needing a walker and a helper. The few stairs he needed to climb were tough, but he played the entire concert, no small feat, with two superb musicians, each about 50 years younger than he. It was a seriously Big Event as most Sherman performances are, with many outstanding pianists there to hear it.

In his brief comments before the program, Turner dubbed the first piece “the last thing Beethoven had to say about the violin sonata, a piece of poetry.” Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in G Major, Op. 96, sometimes dubbed “The Cockcrow,” was given a lovely, songful performance by violinist Gabriela Diaz, one of Boston’s best and busiest freelancers.

Turner commented that the sonata might well have been called, like the last piece on the program, “The Archduke Sonata,” because both it and “The Archduke Trio” were written in 1812, yet neither was published until 1816. Both were dedicated to his student and patron, Archduke Rudolf, and both occupy a place between Beethoven’s middle and late periods. Apparently, the impetus for his completion of this sonata was the arrival in Vienna of the famous French violinist Pierre Rode, who premiered it at Prince Lubkowitz’s palace with Archduke Rudolf at the keyboard. Franz Schubert admired this work and Beethoven’s biographer Lewis Lockwood points out that “anticipation of Schubert emerge in the voicing of the violin and keyboard… Certain musical ideas in the first movement even seem to foreshadow Schubert’s E-flat-major Piano Trio.”

Lockwood adds that violinist Carl Flesch (1873-1944) justly understood the charm and beauty of every movement of this sonata when the latter called it “the most perfect work in the whole series of Beethoven sonatas for its deeper qualities below the lyrical surface, its avoidance of virtuoso passages for their own sake, its fineness of texture and delicacy of sonority.” It was good to hear a Beethoven piece I had never heard before, played by such stellar musicians.

Next came the Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, op. 69 (1807-1808), written in 1807-1808, after nine of the ten violin sonatas. Some consider it to be the first major work in which the cello and piano are brought into equilibrium, where each gets numerous chances to standout or to accompany. The three-movement work was given an excellent performance by cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer and Sherman, the former supplying high-spirited yet soulful cello playing.

The wonderful (and deservedly famous) Piano Trio No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 97, “Archduke,” was nicknamed for its dedicatee, Beethoven’s patron, friend, and occasional pupil, the Archduke Rudolph, younger brother of the Emperor Leopold II. The piece received a beautiful, ingratiating performance, the program’s highlight. Diaz and Popper-Kaiser have played countless concerts together in numerous ensembles — they recently formed The Simrock Quartet. The musicians play together extremely well, making this finale of the Beethoven chamber music series a most fortuitous choice.

Turner announced that the next series will feature Mendelssohn and the (vocal) Lieder of Hugo Wolf. They are fortunate choices — Emmanuel Music really knows how to honor – and program – a composer and his work.

Susan Miron, a harpist, has been a book reviewer for over 20 years for a large variety of literary publications and newspapers. Her fields of expertise were East and Central European, Irish, and Israeli literature. Susan covers classical music for The Arts Fuse and The Boston Musical Intelligencer. She is part of the Celtic harp and storytelling duo A Bard’s Feast with renowned storyteller Norah Dooley and plays the Celtic harp at the Cancer Center at Newton Wellesley Hospital.

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