Monday, January 16, 2023

Franck, Bach, and Kreisler in a Concert of Two Halves

Corey Cerovsek and Steven Vanhauwaert at First Lutheran Church, Torrance.


Corey Cerovsek and Steven Vanhauwaert play César Franck, J. S. Bach, and Fritz Kreisler

One feature of pre-Covid South Bay chamber recital programming was the inclusion, usually once in a season, of two-part concerts by the same performers, but with the halves separated by two days: the first in Classical Crossroads Inc.’s lunchtime “First Fridays at First!~fff” at First Lutheran Church, Torrance, with the second following at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church in its ”Second Sundays at Two” series. 

When Covid shut down live-audience concerts in March 2020, the latter series moved under Classical Crossroads’ nonprofit umbrella. Classical Crossroads has cautiously transitioned from pre-recorded streaming to live-audience concerts with simultaneous livestreaming, and these pairings remain an enhanced feature of its programming  LA Opus missed the first such of the 2022-23 season, by violinist Kerenza Peacock and pianist Robert Thies on October 7 and 9, but managed to catch this second of them, fortuitously threaded between rainstorms.

César Franck.
The January “First Friday” had only one work on the program, but what a work! César Franck produced only three chamber compositions in his maturity, the middle one of these, his single Violin Sonata in A major, FWV 8, written in 1886, being rather more concise than the expansive Piano Quintet in F minor that preceded it, and a great deal more so than the gargantuan String Quartet in D that followed in 1889.

The Violin Sonata’s concision was, if anything, emphasized by the flowing, tightly controlled and pointful account given by the duo of the day: Canadian violinist Corey Cerovsek on a rare but welcome visit, and the familiar figure of Belgian-born, locally-resident pianist Steven Vanhauwaert.

The four movements broadly follow a slow-fast-slow-fast pattern, but the players took careful note of the first movement’s somewhat ambiguous Allegretto ben moderato marking so that its undulating and memorable main theme always seemed purposeful and anticipatory, and not the epitome of swooning languor that it can easily become.

In all three of the succeeding movements, despite their dissimilarity in initial tempo and mood, thematic elements recur and recombine and, in the Allegretto poco mosso finale, undergo both recapitulations and metamorphoses that are at once brilliantly inventive, moving, and satisfyingly conclusive. Cerovsek’s and Vanhauwaert’s performance drew all the threads together to crown a performance of Franck’s Violin Sonata as comprehensively integrated as any that I have heard.

Fine though this was, arguably the “Second Sunday” second half was even more memorable. J. S. Bach’s Sei Solo a Violino senza Basso accompagnato (Six solos for violin without bass accompaniment)—as the three Sonatas and three Partitas BWV 1001-1005 are headed on the manuscript title page (right)—seem more often than not in modern recitals to be a quarry from which single-movement extracts are dug for encore purposes.

Even when complete works from the set are given, the Partitas, with their greater number of movements, and in dance forms, tend in my experience to be favored over the four-movement Sonatas, all of which share a similar slow-fast-slow-fast structure, the “sonata da chiesa” layout often used in instrumental works of the preceding century (Bach’s manuscript of the set is dated 1720).

J. S. Bach, c. 1720.
It was a rare treat, therefore, to welcome back Corey Cerovsek, tout seul this time, for not one but two of the solo Sonatas, No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001, and No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005. Throughout, he seemingly made light of the formidable technical difficulties, including ubiquitous double- and triple-stopping, giving accounts of the opening Adagios of each Sonata, and of the Siciliana of Sonata No. 1 and the Largo of Sonata No. 3, that were full of subtle shadings of tone and tempo, making each of these slow movements a distinct expressive whole.

Their Presto (Sonata No. 1) and Allegro assai (Sonata No. 3) finales were dispatched with fervent brilliance, Cerovsek’s omission of both repeats in each movement giving the effect of rockets shooting upwards in a single arc to rapid oblivion, each done and dusted in not much more than one-and-a-half minutes and two-and-a-half minutes respectively.

Corey Cerovsek at RHUMC.
By contrast, he took the two second-movement fugues at relatively steady opening speeds, giving himself room to articulate clearly their increasing elaboration as they progressed.

The standout was the immense Fuga of Sonata No. 3, one of those Bach movements where he seems deliberately to push himself into areas of expression and elaboration beyond anything that might be anticipated, as in, say, the Ciaconna that ends the second solo Partita or the opening movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.

Cerovsek’s handling of this movement was simply masterly, giving shape, coherence, and a feeling of inevitability to what in lesser hands might have just devolved into a 12-minute endurance test for player and audience alike.

Fritz Kreisler.
Both halves of the recital ended with encores by Fritz Kreisler. On Friday, the duo chose to follow the Franck Violin Sonata with the gypsy inflections of Kreisler's La Gitana (1917), while as (light!?) relief after the J. S. Bach Sonatas, Corey Cerovsek finished with the more showily virtuosic Recitative and Scherzo-Caprice, Op. 6. published in 1911. Let’s hope he makes another visit soon.

Both parts of this fine concert were livestreamed, and with the permission of the players can be enjoyed on Classical Crossroads Vimeo page for a month here, ably captured in sound and vision by Jim Eninger.


“First Fridays at First!~fff,” First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 12.15pm, Friday, January 6, 2023. ”Second Sundays at Two,” Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, Rolling Hills Estates, 2:00pm, Sunday, January 8, 2023.
Images: The performers: Classical Crossroads; Franck and Bach: Wikimedia Commons.

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