Stanley Fefferman’s Chamberfest Diary, Thursday, August 7, 2008: Part One

Noon, Wednesday, August 7, Ottawa Chamberfest ’08

The concert had a headliner and a special attraction. The headliner was the 2006 Honen’s First Laureate pianist Minsoo Sohn. The special attraction was Mark Nerenberg (1973)[click on the photo], a composer from Edmonton who enjoyed  a world première of his composition for cello and piano entitled “I Thirst”. Mr. Nerenberg was  familiar to most of the Chamberfest audience for an amazing tape he made and played daily of conversations that happened among dedicated concert-goers during the long lineups(up to 4 hours, rain or shine) outside concert venues. What a delightful surprise it was to hear a powerful performance of his thoughtful “I Thirst”, a moving work for piano and cello based on one of the seven last words of Christ.

Minsoo Sohn[click on the photo] has a Gouldian presence at the keyboard. His body moves fluidly as he is stirred by his passion for the music, and indeed, for the instrument which he seems at times to be embracing. His hands are poetic, caressing the keys lightly or striking them with great force, but always precisely, and always bringing out subtlety in the phrasing that individualizes the character and feeling of the music. Despite these natural theatrics, Minsoo Sohn did not overplay the music and kept the sensitivity of his playing well controlled.

Minsoo Sohn accompanied on cello by Rachel Mercer[click on the photo] gave Mark Nerenberg his première, but focused their recital on two major works by Beethoven, the “Sonata for Cello and Piano in D major, opus 102, No.2”, and the earlier “ Sonata for Cello and Piano in A major, opus 69, No 3.” Beethoven completed the A major in 1808 during his productive middle period, the leap into the Romantic ideal that accounted for the Fifth Symphony, the Violin Concerto and the Apassionnata.

The D major, composed in 1815, is transitional to the great late string quartets and bears the marks of Beethoven’s increasing freedom of expression with structure. This Sonata has only three movements; it produces a disjointed feeling, the melodic line is austere, and without warning it takes unexpected changes in tempo and mood. The third movement ‘Allegro fugato’ has the reputation of being extremely daunting to play. Given too, that the cello sonata is know to be a difficult medium because low notes of the lower strings on both instruments tend to cover each making the question of balance an elusive one, this impromptu but excellent duo of Sohn and Mercer gave a convincing account of all three works. I have already remarked on the qualities of Sohn’s playing. Rachel Mercer showed that her technique is solid and that she can awaken her instrument to sing full-throated yet sweet tones even in the most demanding passages.

PS Here is a view of a typical Chamberfest lineup outside the venue where this concert took place. Here is the link to hear Mark Nerenburg’s interactive tape entitled “LINES” http://www.ottawalines.ca/. You can also listen online to some pieces of his music.

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