Chameleon Series
Iris van Eck/Kemal Gekic
Locatelli/Mendelssohn/Ginastera/Prokofiev (1/18/2009)

By Lawrence Budmen

Chamber music on a Sunday afternoon is a wonderfully joyous and satisfying experience, particularly when played in an intimate venue. Cellist Iris van Eck’s Chameleon Series continues to enliven the South Florida music scene with interesting programming (often featuring rarely played repertoire) and a cavalcade of some of the area’s finest musicians. On January 18 at the Leiser Opera Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Van Eck teamed with piano virtuoso Kemal Gekic for a fascinating traversal of scores from three centuries.

Best known as a violinist and composer for that instrument, Pietro Locatelli (1695-1764) was a prolific creative artist and entrepreneur. Indeed the 18th century Italian composer was not employed by royalty or the church and performed only at private salon concerts but managed to support himself by publishing his own works and selling them throughout Europe. His Sonata in D Major for Cello and Piano abounds in entrancing melodies and graceful Baroque cadences. It also challenges the capacity of the string instrument. In the opening Allegro, van Eck struggled valiantly (if not always successfully) with Locatelli’s fierce writing in the cello’s upper register. She embraced the composer’s sublimely noble melodic thread in the central Adagio, phrasing with aristocratic flexibility.

After discreetly essaying Locatelli’s spare continuo accompaniment, Gekic came into his own with the Sonata No.1 in B-flat Major, Op.45 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). During this 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth, it is important to remember that he was one of the most extraordinarily gifted composers in the history of Western music. Second only to Mozart as a creative prodigy, Mendelssohn composed 12 string symphonies and the remarkable Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream while still a teenager. His seemingly spontaneous flow of inspired thematic material and rigorous sense of formal structure reveal the work of a master. (Mendelssohn was also one of the most important conductors of his day. He led the premieres of significant scores by Schubert, Schumann and Niels Gade and played a leading role in the revival of Bach’s music.) Mendelssohn’s first cello sonata is infrequently performed but characteristically spotlights a glorious outpouring of inspired song.

Gekic’s rock solid technique and impetuosity fit Mendelssohn’s passionately impulsive opus like a glove. His stormy pianism gave equal weight to the score’s sturm und drang expressivity and lyrically expansive flights. With van Eck in full throttle mode, the work’s vibrant drama and romanticism was richly served. In the elongated melody of the Andante, cello and piano sang forth with carefully balanced, finely nuanced ardor. Mendelssohn’s chamber works receive too few performances. Kudos to van Eck for reviving this outstanding piece!

Alberto Ginastera’s Pampeana No.2 is a wildly astringent vision of Bartok on the Pampas. The Argentinean composer’s searing harmonies and indigenous folk references stroke this most unconventional of scores. There is even a suggestion of the languor of the “nuevo tango” which Ginastera’s student Astor Piazzolla would develop as a compositional trademark. The composer’s technical demands on the players are almost impossible to meet. Gekic and van Eck came close to channeling Ginastera on his own terms.

The Sonata in C, Op.119 by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) finds this iconic Russian master in uncharacteristic bittersweet mode. There is a pensive autumnal glow to the opening bars that permeates the entire score, composed in 1949 for the young Mistislav Rostropovich. The heroic theme of the Allegro ma non troppo finale brings a ray of light to the shadowy mist of this gem from the composer’s twilight years. With van Eck offering supple musicality and Gekic reveling in the score’s moody fervor, the duo’s performance suggested the darkness of the late Stalin era that gave birth to the piece.

In response to the audience’s appreciative standing ovation, the duo offered a beautifully songful traversal of one of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, featuring some of van Eck’s most tonally refulgent playing of the afternoon. This delightful vignette again saluted the remarkable genius of Mendelssohn – the perfect conclusion to an arresting chamber music salon.


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