Thursday, October 27, 2016

Cellist Jennifer Kloetzel Leads Off the 2016 Fall San Francisco Performances Salons

Yesterday evening at the Hotel Rex, San Francisco Performances presented the first of its four Salon programs for the fall season. The featured artist was cellist Jennifer Kloetzel, best known to many (most?) in the audience as the founding cellist of the Cypress String Quartet, which disbanded after twenty years of concertizing this past June. Her accompanist was pianist Robert Koenig, who is now her faculty colleague at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she teaches two days out of the week while remaining a resident of San Francisco. She presented a program that sampled two major cello sonatas in two markedly different styles, both introduced and followed by shorter and lighter compositions.

The first sonata was the second of the two Opus 5 sonatas for piano and cello that Ludwig van Beethoven composed during a visit to Berlin in 1796. By way of context, 1796 was the year in which Ataria published the three Opus 2 piano sonatas that Beethoven had dedicated to his former teacher Joseph Haydn. He was just beginning to establish his reputation and was learning a thing or two about promotion. While in Berlin he was introduced to the King of Prussia Frederick William II, whose love of music was closely tied to his own mastery of the cello. The King’s court was frequented by the Duport brothers, both of whom were cellists. Jean-Pierre was one of the King’s teachers; and both he and his brother Jean-Louis played frequently at court. For those who read about the Dover Quartet recording yesterday, this is the same king that paid little attention to the three string quartets sent to him by a cash-desperate Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart near the end of this life.

Beethoven’s encounter with the King’s court was more successful, and it led to his honoring the monarch with original compositions. He had both of his Opus 5 sonatas performed for the King, taking the piano part and playing with one of the Duport brothers. (There is no conclusive evidence as to which Duport played with Beethoven. The Wikipedia page for these sonatas currently favors Jean-Louis.) This provided the composer with ample opportunity to show off his keyboard virtuosity while also providing a platform for the King’s favorite instrument played by one of his favored performers.

In many ways the Opus 5 sonatas owe as much of a debt to Haydn as the Opus 2 piano sonatas do. By 1796 both Mozart (now deceased) and Haydn (still going) had shared an interest in providing an opening Allegro movement of a symphony with an Adagio introduction, perhaps as a reflection back on either the “French overture” structure or the four-movement sonata da chiesa structure of the Baroque period. By the time Haydn wrote his final (“London”) symphony (Hoboken I/104) in 1795, the Adagio had extended to sixteen measures that took on several critical mood shifts. Still in his twenties, Beethoven continued to maintain a strong streak of showing that he could better Haydn at some of the master’s best games; and, as a result, the Adagio sostenuto e espressivo introduction to the G minor sonata performed last night ran to 43 measures with as much thematic diversity as could be found in a “real” Adagio movement and a few false endings thrown in to build up a bit of suspense. Some might even choose to call this a movement unto itself, but it is clear from the way it ends that it was intended as an introduction to the Allegro molto più tosto presto that follows. (For the record, the first movement of the second Opus 5 sonata is the longest movement found in any of Beethoven’s five cello sonatas.)

Beethoven was clearly trying to impress the King with music whose attention to dramatic qualities was as strong as its commitment to virtuosity. Yesterday evening’s performance could not have scored better on both counts. This proved to establish the full power of the chemistry between Kloetzel and Koenig, both of whom had a generous amount of weight to carry (and this movement was the only part of the two-movement sonata that they performed). Curiously, they chose to couple this ambitious undertaking with an equally ambitious result of another composer writing in his late twenties but from an entirely different era. The composer was Sergei Rachmaninoff; and his Opus 19 G minor cello sonata (the same key as the second Opus 5 Beethoven sonata) was composed in 1901, the same year in which he wrote what is probably his best-known piece, his Opus 18 (second) piano concerto in C minor.

While Kloetzel and Koenig presented the opening of the Beethoven sonata, they played the final two movements (Andante and Allegro molto) of the Rachmaninoff. The Andante is particularly engaging with his rich texture of polyrhythmic superpositions and a melodic line for the cello that weaves its way within the dense counterpoint on the piano. By way of contrast the final movement settles into a more conventional structure in which both cello and piano have ample opportunity to soar through a diversity of highly melodic themes. As was recently observed on this site, Rachmaninoff made it a point to treat cello and piano as equal partners in this sonata. Those who know this sonata could appreciate just how effective this combination was in last night’s performance. Hopefully, those just getting to know the piece came away with a craving to listen to the other two movements.

The opening selection came from Gaspar Cassadó’s Collection de six morceaux classiques (collection of six classical pieces), which Universal Edition published in 1925. Cassadó attributed each of these pieces to a “classical” composer; and Kloetzel selected the “Toccata” attributed to Girolamo Frescobaldi. The other composers in the collection were Franz Schubert, Luigi Boccherini, François Couperin, Gottlieb Muffat, and Martin Berteau, the last known for his études for solo cello. Cassadó added a piano accompaniment for one of those études, but the only other composer whose actually music is included in this collection is Muffat. Thus, the toccata movement is entirely original Cassadó; but, questions of authenticity aside, the music provided a first-rate way to light a fire to stimulate listening to the sonata movements that would follow.

The concluding selection was one of three rhapsodies that Alberto Ginastera composed to evoke the pampas of Argentina. Each was given the name “Pampeana;” and the second was scored for cello and piano. In the manner of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsodies, the music spans a variety of different moods, each of which captures a different aspect of these wide-open plains. However, Ginastera is best known for his intricate rhythmic patterns; and these made for an impressive display in the final section. During the following Q&A both Kloetzel and Koenig gave their own thoughts about the intense concentration required to negotiate that complexity; but the music certainly made for the perfect razzle-dazzle conclusion to an impressively diverse program.

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