Chamber Music Society to play Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, Piazzolla

By May 9, 2011

Cellist Victoria Ehrlich will be featured when the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento performs May 14 at Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis. Courtesy photo

Cellist Victoria Ehrlich will be featured when the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento performs May 14 at Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis. Courtesy photo


What: Chamber Music Society of Sacramento

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Congregation Bet Haverim, 1715 Anderson Road

Tickets: $28 general, $22 seniors, $12 children or students with ID

Info: (916) 443-2908 or http://www.cmssacto.org

The Chamber Music Society of Sacramento wraps up its season at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Congregation Bet Haverim, 1750 Anderson Road in Davis.

On the program will be one of the most famous of the “Late Quartets” by Beethoven, as well as a violin sonata from the late 1800s by Camille Saint-Saëns, and an Argentine tango arranged for cello and piano in the 1980s by “new tango” master Astor Piazzolla.

Piazzolla’s “Le Grand Tango” was written in 1982 and dedicated to the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who eventually recorded the piece. Several stories are connected with the piece: Some scholars claim that Rostropovich didn’t recognize the piece when Piazzolla sent it to him, and stuck the score in a desk for several years, leaving the premiere to Carter Brey, principal cellist with the New York Philharmonic.

Other versions of the story maintain that Rostropovich played the premiere. In either case, “Le Grand Tango” has become a popular piece, which is performed in multiple adaptations, including violin and piano, as well as duo guitars, among others.

Saturday’s performance, however, will feature cellist Victoria Ehrlich, who has been a member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra since 1984, and pianist Dimitry Cogan, who comes from a Russian background.

Ehrlich has her own theory about how the piece originated: “I think Piazzolla must have gotten together with Rostropovich and asked ‘What can you do?’ ”

The cello, after all, is not a traditional tango instrument.

“And then,” Ehrlich theorized, “perhaps after Rostropovich played for Piazzolla, Piazzolla put all that stuff into the piece. Parts of it are ‘tango-istic,’ other parts are very ‘cello-istic.’ And it’s all very sexy and fun.”

Sharing the program will be the famous Quartet No. 13 in B Flat Major, Op. 130. This is the piece that Beethoven originally wrote with the intricate, lengthy “Grosse Fugue” as the finale. But when Beethoven’s publisher approached the composer and asked him for an alternative ending that was, well, a little shorter, easier to play and a bit more upbeat in mood — and the publisher also sweetened the deal by offering Beethoven an extra sum as well — Beethoven then obliged by providing a briefer and much more cheerful “Adagio as the new ending.

It’s this version that was published, and this is also the version that the Chamber Music Society will perform on Saturday.

Ehrlich remarked that “the beauty of this Beethoven quartet is they way the four parts weave in and out. All of us end up wanting to sound like someone else in the group, which requires lots of discussion about bowing and tone quality and vibrato and things. We have to match each other, rather than sticking out.

“So rehearsing it and performing it become a wonderful exercise in bonding. And it’s the most wonderful quartet. It’s got hymns, joyful exuberance, brutality, even deep sadness. It’s very exciting to play.”

Camille Saint-Saëns was born about seven years after Beethoven’s death — Saint-Saëns also lived until 1921, meaning his life overlapped for three years with the life of Leonard Bernstein, who eventually would become a great conductor.  The piece by Saint-Saëns on the Chamber Music Society’s program is his Violin Sonata No. 1, and that number might lead you to conclude that this sonata is a youthful piece. But it was written in 1885, when the Saint-Saëns was entering his 50s, and at the peak of his powers as a composer.

The sonata has been performed several times in Davis in recent years. It was on Itzhak Perlman’s program, with pianist Rohan De Silva, when they visited the Mondavi Center in January; it was also performed at Mondavi by violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk in February 2010.

This performance will feature William Barbini, a longtime resident of Davis who has served as concertmaster with several orchestras around the state, and artistic director of the Chamber Music Society, and pianist Dimitry Cogan.

Saturday’s Davis concert by the Chamber Music Society will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in the Music Recital Hall at Sacramento State University.

Tickets for either performance will be available at the door: $28 general, $22 for seniors and $12 children or students with ID. For more information, visit http://www.cmssacto.org or call (916) 443-2908.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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