Once, when the novelist John Gardner was being interviewed on National Public Radio about teaching writing at a university, he was asked how he would deal with a student who showed absolutely no command of basic skills, let alone inspiration. Gardner replied that he would invite the student to come to his office; and, after the student was seated, the first question he would ask would be “What does your father do?” That advice would not work for today’s performers in the Noontime Concerts series at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral. The Gold Duo was a father-and-son affair, father Joseph Gold on violin and his son Raphael on viola.
This was a recital in which, regardless of the music they happened to be playing, basic skills were sorely lacking. This was most evident where pitch was involved. Neither player showed a firm grasp of the intonation necessary to play the music of two of Mozart’s contemporaries, Ignace Pleyel and Alessandro Rolla; and things were no better with a forward leap of about 100 years to Max Bruch. Not only did neither of them command intonation within his individual part; but also there was no sense of micro-level adjustments through which the pitches of the two instruments would match with the necessary harmonic consonance and dissonance.
Phrasing did not fare much better. Here there was a similar problem, this time involving of a basic sense of pulse and the shaping of rhythm around that pulse; but there were also issues on the longer scale of how tempo facilitates or impedes the listener’s sense of how time is passing. Also again there was the question of coordination between the two players, since the passing of time must be keenly shared at every level of granularity.
Unless all of these nuts and bolts are properly secured, it is almost irrelevant what music is actually being performed. Nevertheless, it is probably worth mentioning that father Joseph undertook to create an arrangement of Max Bruch’s Opus 47 “Kol Nidrei” in which the viola would take on the cello solo and the violin would account for everything else (i.e., music that was originally written as orchestral accompaniment). The arrangement clearly made the case that Joseph understood the priorities in the overall score. In other words through his capacity for arrangement he demonstrated admirable skill in understanding which of the elements were most critical to this music sounding effectively. Yet, when it came to adopting that skill in matters of execution, neither he nor his son ever really showed even suggestions of rudimentary comprehension, a great misfortune for an institution that once provided the great service of introducing San Francisco audiences to repertoire with expenses covered only by donations and grants.