A String Quartet, a Violinist and a Pianist Walk into a Barge…

United StatesUnited States Franck, Debussy, Chausson: Ursula Oppens (piano), Mark Peskanov (violin), Cassatt Quartet, Muneko Otani  (violin), Jennifer Leshnower (violin), Sarah Adams (viola), Nicole Johnson (cello), Bargemusic, New York City, 8.7.2012 (BH)

Franck: Sonata for violin and piano in A Major (1886)
Debussy: String Quartet in G minor, Op.10
Chausson: Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet in D Major, Op. 21 (1889-1891)

This appealing French program at Bargemusic by the Cassatt Quartet (with two notable guests) was cleanly terraced, starting with a duo, followed by a quartet and then a sextet combining both. Mark Peskanov, Bargemusic’s President and Artistic & Executive Director, is also a persuasive violinist, and here with pianist Ursula Oppens began with a sweet, florid account of Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano in A Major. In the first movement, the pair’s unruffled assurance underpinned Peskanov’s big tone, leading to some fireworks in the following Allegro. A wistful, slightly sad third movement made the energetic finale all the more satisfying. Like detectives, the duo unerringly found the phrases’ peaks and valleys, with the violinist displaying fine intonation and Oppens providing a stormy conclusion.

With the amusing accompaniment of a water taxi horn nearby, the Cassatt’s plunged into Debussy’s String Quartet with a gutsy, tingling opening movement. The second Assez vif et bien rythmé (“lively and well paced”) had the intimacy of a favorite aunt telling a story, with a light ending, as if hearing her words fade off before falling asleep. The warm, stirringly phrased third movement—even with some sharpness in climaxes—had its rhythms echoed by the gentle rocking of the barge. In the finale there was a nice ramp-up to speed, not too fast, leading to a satisfying blitz of color at the end.

During the break, a boy who appeared to be about four went up to the piano, sat down and let fly a few strains of Mozart, while the artists mingled and chatted with the audience. This kind of relaxed informality is one of the aspects of concert going here that many treasure.

All six players combined for the finale, Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet. In the opening, Oppens’s “crack of doom” motif led to an embracing chorale as the other players entered. Some of the movement’s extravagant arpeggios proved challenging, but overall, the players created an inviting, involving tapestry. The roseate “Sicilienne: Pas Vite” was steeped in nostalgia, and featured some fine work by Peskanov. In the third section, marked “Grave,” another decisive opening by the solo violin and piano created a world by turns thoughtful, bristling and bleak. Oppens really shone in the finale with its piano athletics, but all six artists had their moments bringing Chausson’s ripe creation to a rich, compelling end.

Bruce Hodges