REVIEW: By Mike Dunham
Well the flier in the mail SAID cellist Eugene Osadchy had arranged some Shostakovich piano preludes for solo cello. But when I got to Grant Hall on Friday night for the start of the second weekend of concerts in the Alaska Airlines Autumn Classics chamber music series, there were two chairs and two music stands on stage. Turns out Osadchy's arrangements are for a cello-violin duo, in which the arranger performed along with Paul Rosenthal.
It's still no small matter to play these keyboard pieces on a pair of string instruments. You miss the piano's low notes. The strings can sustain high notes in ways that are impossible on piano and a rolled chord on a piano sounds completely different than the same chord strummed or plucked on fiddles large or small.
But it's not the first time someone has reworked some of these preludes for other instruments; Leopold Stokowski famously did it with the whole Philadelphia Orchestra. This more modest investigation has the happy result of emphasising the klezmer stylings that the composer picked up during his association with avant gard Yiddish theater. Stalin put the lid on that kind of expression soon enough, and it would be easy to overlook the influences; but Osadchy's arrangements shine a light on Shostakovich's sound in such a way that the connection stands out, especially in the more "ironic" sounding ones.
There's also some irony in Mozart's "Dissonant" Quartet; the dissonance of the slow introduction is merely poignant or bittersweet suspensions and resolutions to modern ears. The performance with Rosenthal and second violinist Sarah Kapustin, violist Marcus Thompson and Osadchy felt a little tepid except in the acrobatic minuet; the minuets are turning out to be the best part of these so-called "Haydn" quartets.
The Brahms Piano Quartet in A Major -- same forces minus Rosenthal, plus pianist Ian Fountain -- had more intensity. The climax of the first movement, which occurs right in the middle, blistered with volcanic power. I didn't think the rest of the quartet lived up to that moment, but others in the sold-out house called it "Fantastic."
Not really. But tonight it might be.
The Autumn Classics continue with performances at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday in Grant Hall. Tickets at CenterTix.net