Early Music Fest brandishes Beethoven
New London — Lights that flickered, a wayward page turn and an out-of-sync ending of the first half: It wasn't all smooth sailing during the all-Beethoven concert Sunday at Connecticut College's Evans Hall, but the Connecticut Early Music Festival managed to skirt the shoals and finish its first weekend with a flourish.
The hour-and-a-half concert was highlighted by the concluding piece, Beethoven's Trio in E flat, Op. 1, No. 1, a lively and entertaining work for fortepiano, violin and cello that took turns being stiff and formal or light and carefree.
Susanna Ogata on violin was a sonic tonic with her beautiful tone and effortless playing, while festival artistic director Ian Watson on the keyboard survived one near-disastrous page turn in the third movement to delight a crowd of about 150 with his gentle touch and Guy Fishman added a dashing and eloquent cello.
Watson explained to the audience at the 36th annual festival that he and Ogata had just concluded a six-year quest to record all 10 Beethoven violin sonatas on original instruments (several other artists have done so on the modern variety). The fourth and last of the Beethoven CDs was just released, he said, after rave reviews for the first three sets.
"This marks the completion of a project that has long engrossed both of us," Watson said. "We've been putting our heart and soul into them."
The first piece played Sunday evening was Beethoven's Sonata for Fortepiano and Violin No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 23, a sweet and flowing work with much melodic echoing between piano and violin, a flirtatious give and take. Early in the third movement, the hall lights momentarily flickered, worrying audience members that something was afoot, but the players didn't seem to notice as Watson and Ogata brought the piece home to the classic Beethoven big ending.
Before playing the evening's second work, Watson spent a moment introducing the crowd to his pianoforte, a smaller version of the piano with three distinctly different sounds in the various registers: tinkly in the upper notes, a more piano-like sound in the mid range and a jangly rattle in the bass notes.
He also noted the early version of the violin Ogata was playing, which doesn't contain the bridge, tail piece or chin rest of our modern, brighter-sounding instrument.
"You have to adopt a whole different way of playing," he said.
The second piece, just before intermission, was the Sonata for Fortepiano and Violin No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2, an evanescent number highlighted by the impassioned and somber movement marked Andante, piu tosto allegretto. It was a soothing musical backrub that seemed the perfect antidote to our far-too-strident times, and if the ending of the final movement was a bit off, these moments of early-music serenity make it easy to summon a forgiveness for imperfection that seems uncommon in everyday life.
The Early Music Festival's next performance will be 7:30 p.m. Friday, a performance of George Frideric Handel's "Acis and Galatea." At 5 p.m. Sunday, Ronn McFarland and Paul O'Dette are featured in a concert of virtuoso lute duets from Italy and England. Other performances run through June 24.
All concerts are at Evans Hall at Connecticut College. For information, visit www.ctearlymusic.org.
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