The trouble with unfretted stringed instruments—specifically the classical violin family—is they inherently sound bad. It takes years of practice to develop the skills necessary to produce a single pleasing tone on a violin, viola or cello. Fortunately, Portland State has a marvelous string program headed by master cellist and pedagogue Hamilton Cheifetz, and six of PSU’s finest performances at April 19’s noon concert.
It would be inexcusable to omit Beethoven and Brahms from a noon concert dedicated to strings. Violinist Lauren Grant, accompanied by the ever dextrous Chuck Dillard, opened the show with Beethoven’s Romance in F Major, Op. 50, a nice bit of late Early Period fluff. It’s hardly Beethoven’s best piece, but it’s pleasant enough and Grant did a hell of a job with it. Eugene Howe performed Brahms’ considerably more interesting Sonata No. 1 in G major, Op. 78 with just the right balance of the brooding brilliance Brahms requires.
There were a couple of nice virtuosic showpieces. Shion Yamakawa (with Dillard once more on piano) ripped through violin god Fritz Kreisler’s brief, dazzling transcription of the great Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s opera La Vida Breve, Dr. Chuck Dillard doing his usual magic tricks at the piano. Violist Tricia Bogdan thrilled with the unaccompanied solo Capriccio “Hommage á Paganini,” Op. 55, by Henri Vieuxtemps, a 19th-century Belgian composer.
Zach Banks performed twice during this concert, first in a duet with violinist Viet Block. Together they performed two movements from Russian composer Reinhold Glière’s Eight Pieces for Violin and Cello: the Berceuse (Lullaby) and the Scherzo. When I hear selected movements, I always want to hear the whole composition, but Block and Banks chose well. On the Berceuse, Block’s sweet, golden tone turned Glière’s gentle melody into rays of pure sunshine over Banks’ stolid, somber accompaniment. This Scherzo isn’t exactly as rollicking as other scherzi which come to mind—Beethoven’s, for example, or Shostakovich’s, or John Williams’ delightful Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra. But its interlocking parts gave the duo a chance to show off their ensemble chops.
Banks closed the concert with a long solo work by another Russian composer: Alexander Tcherepnin’s 1946 Suite for Cello. The four continuous movements only last about seven minutes, but don’t let that fool you—it’s a hefty piece full of vigorous rhythmic passages, tricky double stops, resonant strummed chords and several glorious moments high up in the cello’s unique thumb position. Banks played it all beautifully in his usual relaxed intense manner, ending with a dazzling climax, a heavy sigh of relief and that familiar modest grin.
For more information on the School of Music & Theater’s free weekly Noon Concert Series, including a complete schedule, visit www.pdx.edu/music/noon-concert-series.