Elegance and Vitality in Chamber Music at Taft Museum

United StatesUnited States Schumann, Beethoven, Franck: Rebecca Culnan (violin), Dan Culnan (cello), Frank Weinstock (piano). Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati. 23.3.2015 (RDA)

Schumann: Adagio and Allegro for Cello and Piano, Op. 70
Beethoven: Trio Op. 70, No. 2 in E-flat
Franck: Violin Sonata in A

Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro for Cello and Piano was written in 1849 and conceived for French horn and piano, but it is a work better served and most often played these days by a cellist who can bring the nobility and singing tone of that instrument. That work opened Sunday afternoon’s concert for the Taft Museum of Art Chamber Music Series, with Dan Culnan, the Associate Principal Cello of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Frank Weinstock. This peerless performance, part of the museum’s monthly Chamber Music Series featuring Cincinnati musicians, was played with Romantic sweep and clarity.

Beethoven’s Trio Op. 70, No. 2 in E-flat was dedicated in 1808 to a patroness from whom the composer hoped to obtain much needed financial support. It is one of a pair of works from the same opus, the other being the more familiar “Ghost” trio, with its eerie opening measures. There is nothing spooky here, though the first movement surprises with its mercurial changes. The second movement is a graceful Allegretto that hovers between C minor and major, subject to Beethoven’s fluctuating moods. The third movement is reliably stable—a brief and elegant Allegretto—while the impassioned Finale returns to the safety of the E-flat home key after the sturm und drang of a now pensive, now intensely emotional composition that reflects the onset of the composer’s middle age and its unsettling changes. Violinist Rebecca Culnan, Associate Concertmaster of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, joined Culnan and Weinstock—all three playing as one with elegance and vitality.

Franck’s Violin Sonata in A was first performed in 1888 at dusk, in all but complete darkness in a European museum whose curator ruled out the use of any sort of artificial illumination. The violinist was the legendary Eugene Isaye and the pianist was Franck himself, and reportedly both played from memory, faultlessly. In this performance, Rebecca Culnan played in normal light and in full view of the audience, with the rock-solid partnering of pianist Frank Weinstock. It was a grand performance, and Both Culnan and Weinstock conquered the technical hurdles, with idiomatic and passionate playing in this very difficult obstacle course by one of the last French romantics.

Rafael de Acha

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