Well loved local musical heroes Monica Curro and Stefan Cassomenos braved the empty walls of the Athenaeum Theatre to give us a remarkably detailed, expressive and highly enjoyable showcase of Beethoven’s finest sonatas.
While looking forward to this program of music, I was also questioning my expectations: would my computer appreciate the performers’ sound, would the lack of an audience detract from the atmosphere, and would there be a lack of soul causing Beethoven to turn in his grave? With just a couple of split second image freezes at the beginning of the broadcast, the technology and stage presentation worked surprisingly well giving a fine aural treat for an isolated audience. We could focus intently on the musical performance with no distractions and open our minds to a breathtakingly detailed artistic hour.
In just the first movement of Sonata No 4 in A minor, Op 23, Presto, the alternating but balanced roles of solo brilliance or sensitive accompaniment from this virtuosic partnership was prominent. Curro and Cassomenos exude brilliance in technique, priceless intuition, vitality and tonal variety, with attention to every dynamic detail that Beethoven throws endlessly and abruptly into his scores. Cassomenos loved the showy and passionate double octave passages and Curro’s expressive and rich long notes were splendid. This was an exciting opening movement of a sonata which has much dance-like character, shown in the playful echoing of the many rising or descending scale patterns. Presto was not the aim of this performance, rather a fully detailed expressive showing that put feeling, finesse and technical perfection at the forefront.
Andante scherzoso is frequently played with more drive and upbeat, which can emphasise the syncopation and brightness of the A major key, but I enjoyed the more refined and elegant tempo taken today which allowed much beauty and phrase-shaping to be enjoyed. The dotted rhythms were softer, smoother and more charming, the unhurried tempo allowing almost a questioning and thoughtfulness in the dialogue of repeated phrases, and the trills made unique statements of their own. The score of the 3rd Movement Allegro Molto appears deceptively “simple” with chorale-like episodes allowing rich long held tones on the violin. Contrasting sections of arpeggios and repeated octaves provided a united flight path for this duo to exult in more powerful and sudden extremes of sound that diminished beautifully together in the breathless descent of the descending fragments and fading final bars.
The quite lengthy Allegro moderato, which opens the Sonata No 10 in G majorwas a well chosen contrasting work, offering us a charming, lyrical and often pastorale texture. Again, Cassomenos’ piano trills showed a magical life of their own, and the musical conversations of repeated short patterns and melodic phrases thrown from one player to the other were exemplary. The melodic writing allowed Curro to lead with a fully blossomed and broad tone colour, and the empathy and security of Cassomenos’ fluent and precise accompanying made this a most romantic and dreamy episode. Beethoven’s dramatic key changes kept us focussed in this very lovely performance.
Following the chordal piano introduction in Adagio espressivo, Curro’s first languorous, descending melodic entry with very sonorous rich low notes was quite striking in its expression and eloquence. Further delicate interwoven parts were consistently beautiful in their romantic expression and technical precision. This very lovely movement led immediately into the short but envigorating Scherzo, where syncopated chords and a free rein allowed the musicians to display shared joyfulness and dynamic breadth.
Poco allegretto brought together all the creative elements of Beethoven’s Sonata style, with a tender, lyrical theme being the source for variations, extremes of pitch, abrupt and unexpected tempo and key changes. In the closing stages, powerful crescendos were followed by a contrasting quiet moment of rest before accelerating into the final triumphant cadence.
Curro graciously thanked the listening audience and we applauded them vigorously from our distance.
Photo: Monica Curro and Stefan Cassomenos. Photo supplied.
Julie McErlain reviewed Beethoven Sonatas for Violin and Piano Nos, 4 and 10 performed by Monica Curro, violin, and Stefan Cassomenos, piano, presented by Melbourne Digital Concert Hall on April 18, 2020.