Mark Gresham | 11 JUL 2019
The Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival kicked off its 2019 season this past weekend with a pair of programs each featuring the music of a single composer.
The first, focused on music of George Gershwin, was performed of Friday at the Performing Arts Center in Highlands then again on Saturday evening at the Albert Carlton Library in Cashiers. I attended the latter.
Pianists Julie Coucheron and William Ransom energetically opened the concert with Gershwin’s Cuban Overture arranged for piano, four hands. The lovely Lullaby for String Quartet followed, performed by violinists David Coucheron and Kate Ransom, violist Julianne Lee and cellist Charae Krueger. Interestingly, the Lullaby was the only work on the program that was not a transcription or arrangement.
Clarinetist Marci Gurnow made her single appearance of he weekend with Three Etudes on Themes of Gershwin for Solo Clarinet by British clarinetist Paul Harvey. Each etude is a monologue built upon a Gershwin song: “I Got Rhythm,” “Summertime,” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” Gurnow’s unaccompanied performance was intriguing in its riffing on the tunes as it was engaging.
Jascha Heifetz and George Gershwin were good friends and often played together. Heifetz had asked Gershwin to compose a violin concerto for him, but the project never got off the ground before Gershwin died. Absent that, Heifetz transcribed a handful of Gershwin’s tunes from Porgy and Bess and often played them as encores.
David and Julie Coucheron performed a suite of Heifetz’ Porgy and Bess arrangements. The ear opener was the first of these, “My Man’s Gone Now,” where David Coucheron’s playing sounded like that of his hero, Heifetz – something that made this listener immediately sit up and take notice.
The festival’s artistic director, William Ransom, closed the concert with a solo piano rendition of Rhapsody in Blue, but those who know the published version, which is the transcription of the familiar version for piano and orchestra, would notice a few sections of the piece were in different places. That’s because Ransom’s performance hearkened back to Gershwin’s original 1924 version for the himself as soloist with Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. Ransom threw in a few of his own flourishes here and there for good measure.
Performing from memory, Ransom’s rendition came across very personal, flexible and rhapsodic – hardly the typically square or predictable approach so often encountered. If you’re more inclined to prefer the authenticity of the composer’s own approach to its interpretation as pianist, best to seek out a recording of the player piano roll Gershwin himself recorded with the solo piano part overlaid with addition of the essential orchestra parts on it. But it is a piece which, within reasonable parameters, gives the pianist a little breathing room for personal interpretation rather than rigid rendering.
The second program, entirely music of Mozart, was performed in Highlands on Sunday and Cashiers on Monday. I took in Sunday’s performance in Highlands before heading back to Atlanta.
The Ransom siblings began the concert with Mozart’s Violin Sonata No. 26 in B-flat Major, K. 378 (1781), just a few weeks after the composer settled down in Vienna. It is a work in three movements and it usually lasts around twenty minutes. The Piano Trio No. 3 in B-flat Major, K. 502 (1786), came next, performed by the Coucherons and Krueger. After intermission, they were joined by lee to perform the Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, K. 478 (1785), the first significant piece in chamber music repertoire composed for piano quartet.
The program’s order not only increased the size of the ensemble with each piece, but increased step-wise the musical impact for the listener as the concert progressed. The concluding Quartet made for a fine capstone to the performance. ■