Alexi Kenney, violin
Renana Gutman, piano
St. Paschal Baylon
Highland Heights, OH
April 27, 2021
Bach: Sonata for Violin and Keyboard No. 3 in E major, BWV 1016
Strozzi: L’Eraclito amoroso – No. 14 from Cantate, ariette e duetti, Op. 2 (arr. Kenney)
Messiaen: Thème et variations
Kurtág: Hommage à J.S.B., from Signs, Games and Messages
Messiaen: Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus, from Quatuor pour la fin du temps
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op. 73
Mozart: Violin Sonata No. 35 in A major, K526
In a sure sign of light at the end of the tunnel, the Cleveland Chamber Music Society returned to live, in person performances Tuesday evening. Instead of the usual venue at Plymouth Church, an alternative was to be found in the bright and airy St. Paschal Baylon in Highland Heights, a space rather more conducive to the requisite social distancing (the remaining two performances on the calendar will take place here as well). Violinist Alexi Kenney and pianist Renana Gutman offered a thoughtfully-curated recital, generously filled with curiosities and discoveries.
Bach is always a fine choice with which to begin a recital, and the Sonata for Violin and Keyboard No. 3 was indeed such a selection. The bright E major tonality made for a stately opening, and the lively Allegro that followed purveyed seamless blending of violin and piano: these duo sonatas were pivotal amongst the composer’s output insofar as they gave both instruments roughly equal prominence. A passacaglia movement served as the emotional core of the work, given a heartfelt reading, while the finale was as uplifting as anything Bach wrote. Barbara Strozzi’s brief song L’Eraclito amoroso was presented in a transcription by Kenney. Long-breathed playing drew out a beguiling melody, delicately ornamented.
Following Baroque beginnings, the balance of the first half was rounded out by works from the 20th century. Messiaen’s Thème et variations is an early work, dating from 1932. Even in this early incarnation, the rich chromaticism made its composer unmistakably recognizable, with splashes of color hinting at all that was to come. Despite its the work’s brevity in five variations, Messiaen nonetheless found the space and time for matters to crest to a searing passion. Kurtág’s Hommage à J.S.B. (J.S. Bach, that is) made for a thoughtful connection to the program’s opening. A monologue for violin, the textures obliquely hinted at Baroque dance rhythms. (Local audiences might recall Isabelle Faust memorably presenting a Kurtág piece from the same collection during a Cleveland Orchestra performance a few seasons ago).
The duo revisited Messiaen once more in Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus, the final movement from Quatuor pour la fin du temps. Though written for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (the instruments available to him composing while imprisoned in a German POW camp), most movements are scored for various subsets of the quartet, with the closing movement distilled to violin and piano. This performance had an otherworldly effect. The music proceeded at a wondrously glacial pace, ending high in the stratosphere.
The latter half retreated to rather more familiar territory, but hardly less insightful. The first of Schumann’s three Fantasiestücke was brooding and passionate in its flights of fancy, while the middle piece made for a playful, light-hearted foil before the blistering finale. Mozart’s Violin Sonata in A major, K526 was his last of a long series of violin sonatas (notwithstanding the very brief K547), and served as a substantive conclusion. Sparkling, pearly playing in the opening Molto allegro was further encouraged by Gutman’s stylish accompaniment. There was a nuanced beauty of tone in the lyrical slow movement, always tinged with an ineffable melancholy. The closing Presto was a high-octane affair, though its vigor was deftly interlaced with more lyrical material. As an encore, the duo offered the Sicilienne by Maria Theresia von Paradis (purported dedicatee of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18): a beautiful pendant to a wonderful program.