J.S. Bach’s Sonata in E Major, BWV 1016, Brahms Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78 and the Beethoven Sonata No. 9 in A Major “Kreutzer”, Op. 47, were on the program Sunday, January 21, at 3 pm at the Aptos home of Josef and Maria Sekon. This was the opening concert of the 2018 Aptos Keyboard Series.
As I entered the quaint home that served as the current venue, aromas of freshly brewed French espresso coffee still lingered in the air. Original art works by known artistswere highlighted by the warm sunlight coming through the windows. Many wooden folding chairs painted in bright red, blue, green and yellow filled the floor challenging one as a tight-rope walker, but added warmth to the attractive ambiance. As the minutes passed the venue became packed to the brim by some 40 guests who were in for a wonderful and rare musical treat done in a true 17th-19th century Italian or French “Salon” setting.
In what has become the unique spirit of the Aptos keyboard Series of superb medal award winning pianists who have traveled from Prague (Veronika Boehmova), Berlin (Anna Dmytrenko), Moscow (Daria Kiseleva) and Turkey (Yoonie Han) to perform here in Aptos, violinist Eldar continued the tradition by coming from Turkmenistan, although he now resides in Carmel, as does collaborating pianist James Neiman.
Judging by their impressive performance, the duo has spent many hours performing together while honing their musical skills with spot on attacks, perfect balance, nuance, awareness and virtuosity of the highest order. The Bach Sonata was not without the sacred sense that Bach has infused into his works, for decades composing for the Church became an integral part of his DNA. Filled with exciting counterpoint, the duo balanced lines with artistic taste both in supporting each other and expressing their solo opportunities.
Brahms, with its rich, orchestral coloring reflecting his compositional maturity, was performed with understanding and superb musicianship by the duo. Against Neiman’s sustained chords Eldar spun out a melody in a mezza voce, initially in fragments that nicely developed into rising chromatic scales. Neiman’s chords moved through thick, colorful Brahmsian harmonies. While dotted rhythms persisted in the violin, the piano wound its way downward with descending arpeggios. The work ended with a well-deserved round of applause.
The “Kreutzer” Sonata was the most eagerly anticipated work of the afternoon and made sitting in the packed, crowded room well worth the effort. Beethoven himself said the “Kreutzer” is composed in a virtuoso style, like a concerto, and indeed it sounded like one this afternoon. Regardless of the setting, Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata presents its amazing shifts of mood, from fury to intimacy, to mystical warmth and a recapitulation of the same. It has been written the work follows the contours of a tempestuous mind, or as many have recognized, perhaps a love affair. The clearness of Eldar’s attack in the opening phrase recalled the clarity of the Bach Sonata. The variations of the second movement designated Andante were performed with momentum and accuracy.
The last movement was pure joy. Both Eldar and Neiman were incredibly alert to what the other was doing and at times were able to sound as one combined instrument. They imparted a sense of spontaneity, as if to inspire the other to compete, especially as the movement progressed. This magic happens when musicians feel they have something to add to their performance to create an illuminating experience.
As an added treat for the enthusiastic audience, Meditation from Thais by Jules Massenet was performed as an encore. The delicate, beautiful textures were breath taking. The piano offered a subtle support as Eldar laid down elegant lines that were flawless. The standing ovation lasted three minutes!