by Lindsay Koob
Sunday’s seventh chamber program continued the glorious parade of Doc W’s all-time fave works, beginning with Brazilian master Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Jet Whistle, for flute and cello. In his introductory comments, Wadsworth explained that the composer was very fond of both the cello (his first instrument) and trains. Then, after reminiscing about his own childhood infatuation with trains (and his old Lionel set), he told us to listen for some trainlike sounds — especially in the final movement.
“Unless you’re totally deaf, you can hear them,” he said, adding that the piece ends with a high-pitched train’s “jet whistle” sound from the flute, hence the title. After getting a good laugh, he quipped, “I’m not here to amuse you, you know.” Then, as he shambled offstage, he was heard to mutter, “What am I here for?” At least that’s what I think he said (he was having some problems with his lapel mike).
Tara Helen O’Connor worked hard at her flute, with the rock-solid support of the St. Lawrence Quartet’s Chris Costanza on cello. Together they fed us music full of piquant Brazilian flavors. There was an especially exquisite passage in the first movement where Tara’s flute scampered playfully atop Chris’s plucked cello notes. Sure enough, after the slow and mournful central movement, along came the train, with sawing cello sounds chugging along beneath some incredible flute acrobatics, taking us to the “whistle’s” final shriek.
“What a Blowhard,” quoth Charles as he came back onstage. (Mind you, this is the woman that he dubbed “the fastest tongue in the West” a few festivals back.) But then he turned serious, heaping effusive praise upon O’Connor as THE most in-demand flute virtuoso in New York — adding that this piece intimidates most flutists, being one of the most fearsomely difficult in the repertoire.
Incidentally, as Geoff Nuttall had told us the day before, Costanza was the only cellist on board for a few days, since Alisa Weilerstein had to leave town for awhile — so poor Chris had to leap into the breach and play the music she’d been scheduled to perform on top of his own considerable load. Considering the twice-daily concert schedule, plus the many hours these musicians spend in rehearsal for each piece, that’s a LOT of hard work. Bravo, Chris.
On to Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor: an early work that hints at the mature composer to come. Cello workhorse Costanza was back on duty, along with violist Hsin-Yun Huang and Daniel Phillips on violin. The drama and restless foreboding of the opening movement faded into the Adagio’s quiet elegy and elegant little dance. The busy scherzo’s tense edge let up a little in its central trio section — and again, as the finale kicked in, with its skittering, even playful course( despite a few tense moments and the prevailing minor key).
The concert came to a glorious close with Richard Strauss’s Op. 18 violin sonata, a rich and intensely romantic work of his youth. Doing the honors were violinist extraordinaire Livia Sohn (Nuttal’s wife) and our trusty Stephen Prutsman at the keyboard. Geoff introduced us to this one, telling us of the great things going on in the composer’s life in his early twenties — like being in love. Geoff was keeping us in stitches with his lively commentary, when Papa Charles poked his head from behind the door-curtain, and called, “Geoff! You’re about to go over your four-laugh quota.”
Our performers tore into the piece, stunning their crowd right away with the music’s intense passion and drive, plus plenty of virtuoso moments for both players. The sweet and songlike slow movement spoke of love, with buoyant little Viennese parlor music touches on the side. The third movement’s ardent fervor left us breathless, and the grand finale blew us away in relentless cascades of spectacular playing from both artists.
Prutsman was all over that keyboard; a veritable fountain of notes. Sohn dazzled as well, with both gorgeous tone and the fleetest of fingers. Like her husband Geoff, her technical arsenal includes an incredibly variable vibrato: broad and juicy one moment, fast and fluttery the next — according to the musical emotion at hand. The crowd exploded into a rip-snortin’ standing O when it was over.