Modern Music at the Mansion

May 23, 2009

My husband and I attended the final Music at the Mansion Sunday afternoon concert of the season last Sunday at Highfield Hall in Falmouth. It is an elegant and intimate concert setting, where you can enjoy the architecture, interior design, and art exhibits, as well as the music.

Cellist Ashima Scripp and pianist Eleanor Perrone played Beethoven’s Sonata in C Major, Carter Pann’s “Differences,” and Franck’s Sonata in A minor.

It was a powerful selection of music, and Scripp and Perrone, both very accomplished musicians, played with a bold and expressive  confidence, filling the ballroom with glorious music. The three pieces were technically, musically, and physically demanding, and from distinctly different time periods. Ashima and Perrone were a fully equal  duo, not “just” a soloist and an accompanist, and the concert was an exhilarating experience for all.

The two musicians clearly enjoyed the history and unique aspects of the pieces they were playing. They took turns introducing the music, and both did so with enthusiasm and intelligence.

Knowing that contemporary audiences sometimes spurn contemporary music, it was interesting to see what a positive response there was to American composer Carter Pann’s “Differences,” a piece written in 1998.  The five movements, in different musical styles, vary from a slow air to a bluesy melody to lively popular style music and a country dance. The audience loved this delightful piece, familiar and yet exuberantly different.

Of course, the audience also loved the Romantic Franck sonata, composed in 1886 for violin, but frequently played on cello, and Beethoven cello sonata, his fourth, which was written in 1815.

According to Wikipedia, Beethoven’s 4th and 5th cello sonatas were known for “the complexity of their composition and their visionary character.” Critics of the time were “perplexed,” and said that the 4th and 5th sonatas “elicit the most unexpected and unusual reactions, not only by their form, but by the use of the piano as well. . . We have never been able to warm up to the two sonatas.”

In their time, the Beethoven cello sonatas were modern music, too, but audiences did finally warm to them, and we are clearly the beneficiaries of all these musical treasures. And fortunate to hear them so beautifully played.

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