As was announced about a week ago, members of the San Francisco Munich Trio performed in this afternoon’s installment of the Noontime Concerts series (“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break”). Cellist Rebecca Rust performed a suite in G minor for cello and bassoon by Jean-Baptiste Loeillet, joined by bassoonist Friedrich Edelmann. The remainder of the program was then devoted by Edvard Grieg’s Opus 36 cello sonata in A minor, which Rust performed with pianist Laura Magnani.
Loeillet’s suite presented itself as an excellent example of the compatibility of low-register instruments at its best. From a technical point of view, Rust took the “melody” line, while Edelmann’s bassoon work provided the continuo. However, Loeillet’s techniques for blending these two lines gave the impression of an intimate conversation between equals; and both Rust and Edelmann could not have been more attentive to keeping that blend properly balanced. Thus, while each of the four dance movements was relatively brief, there was no denying that each one had its own characteristic approach to establishing musical impact.
Sadly, the attempt to perform the Grieg sonata was far more unfortunate. To be fair, Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the venue for Noontime Concerts, is not consistently amenable to the piano when it is performing with one or more other instruments. Looking back on the many chamber music concerts I have attended there, I would say that the number of duo performances that have floundered on acoustical grounds is about equal to the number that have succeeded.
I would conjecture that success is often due to a familiarity with the idiosyncrasies of both the space and the instrument. Thus, the simplest explanation is that Rust and Magnani never had enough time to work out how Rust could balance with the piano as effectively as she had with the bassoon. To be fair, however, Grieg himself may have been an issue.
After all, his “strong suit” was clearly the piano; and much of the sonata sounded as if he was revisiting thematic material from his first set of his “lyric” pieces (Opus 12) while trying out material for subsequent collections in that series. (The second set was published as Opus 38.) It was hard to resist the impression that the composer had not quite gotten his head around the conventions for sonata form, but it is unclear how much of that was his fault and how much resided with the performers not coming to terms with what Grieg did write.
Finally, there was a problem with “audience relations.” The performance of the entire sonata was punctuated by a trickle of audience exists, which, fortunately, tended to be restricted to the pauses between the movements of the Grieg sonata. Since this concert is a “lunch break,” there seems to be a consensus that things will be done by 1:15 p.m., allowing time for audience members to get back to work. Grieg may have not had very much to say, but he certainly took a lot of time to say it. The concert did not conclude until around 1:30 p.m. To be fair, however, today’s Mass was led by a priest who rarely “goes by the clock;” so things may well have gotten off to a late start. It is hard to plan a program that will satisfy the necessary constraints when the boundaries of those constraints may get moved with out any advance notice.