Review: Helen Kim and Julie Coucheron offer up a delightful recital on the first day of spring

by Mark Gresham | 28 MAR 2017

Helen Hwaya Kim and Julie Coucheron perform Beethoven's "Violin Sonata No. 1 in D major."

Helen Hwaya Kim and Julie Coucheron perform Beethoven’s “Violin Sonata No. 1 in D major.” (credit: Mark Gresham)

I’ve stated on previous occasions that Atlanta’s suburbs and exurbs are offering up some excellent classical chamber music programs for aficionados, if only the audiences will take the time to discover them. One of the consistent venues for that experience is the Bailey Performance Center’s 691-seat Morgan Hall, located on the main campus of Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, about 25 miles from midtown Atlanta, straight up I-75 and hang a left at the Chastain Rd. exit and you’re right at the edge of the campus. Hang a right at the next intersection, Frey Rd. then follow the signs to Bailey – easiest (at least what I do) is to turn left at the last light before the bridge (Campus Loop Rd.), and when you get into the roundabout, the Bailey parking lot is at about 9 o’clock.

Just over a week ago, on Monday, March 20, I drove up to KSU to hear a delightful recital by violinist Helen Hwaya Kim and pianist Julie Coucheron. They opened with an early Beethoven work, his Violin Sonata No. 1 in D major, Op.12 No. 1, which gives a little more precedence to the piano part, but is still a good vehicle for both performers. Kim and Coucheron gave it a crisp, energized performance that suited its classical demeanor.

They followed the Beethoven with Suite in the Old Style (1972) by Alfred Schnittke, a 20th-century Soviet-German composer. The keyboard part of this Suite may be performed on either piano or harpsichord. In this instance, Coucheron played piano, but the music’s charming “modern-antique” character shone forth even when played on modern instruments.

After intermission came a cluster of smaller works with a more “popular classics” flair. First came Romanza Andaluza, the first of the two Danzas españolas, Op. 22, by Pablo de Saraste, a notable Spanish violinist-composer of the Romantic-era. It was followed by Méditation by Jules Massenet, originally an orchestral entr’acte from Act II of his opera, Thaïs. The tune became immensely popular on its own and remained a canonical part of “popular classical” repertoire as late as the 1960s, thus many transcriptions, like this one for violin and piano, are readily available.

Kim and Coucheron concluded the concert on a Latin-American theme with Le Grand Tango by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. Originally for cello and piano, it exemplifies Piazzolla nuevo tango, and works just as well in this version for violin and piano. The title is most commonly seen in French, rather than the Spanish (El gran tango), because it was published in Paris. Although a single movement, the music is in three sections. In the first, strong tango rhythms are dominant, while the second is freer and song-like. The final section is more eclectic, with some humor, and offered up many challenges – handily addressed by the performers – as it rollicked to its conclusion.

It may feel like a long drive from Atlanta, given the traffic typical of I-75, but the trip is worth it. If you want to avoid the expressway, or if you are coming from Marietta, you can take US 41 and (again simplest) turn right on McCollum Parkway. When McCollum turns left at Duncan Rd., just keep going straight and you’re on the west end of Chastain Rd. From this direction, turn left on Frey Rd. just before I-75 and you’re good.

If you can’t get away for the evening for a live concert, KSU also streams live a number of concerts on the internet. During previous week, that’s how I “attended” chamber concerts by the Summit Trio (violinist Helen Kim again, with cellist Charae Krueger and pianist Robert Henry) as well as a recital by flutist Christina Smith with Robert Henry as pianist. What I’ve seen so far of KSU’s streaming is of high quality, both audio and video. In absence of being right there in Morgan Hall, it has proven a rather credible next best option. •

Fractured Atlas LogoThis post was made possible in part by funds from Fractured Atlas. Donations supporting the Fractured Atlas “Mark Gresham” project may be made online by clicking the linked logo on the right. Fractured Atlas is a 501(c)(3) public charity; all donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.