Vega String quartet members Jessica Shuang Wu, violin; Guang Wang, cello, and Yinzi Kong, viola. (source: screen capyure / Emory U.)

Revieew: Emory Chamber Music Society concludes big Beethoven project

Giorgio Koukl | 7 DEC 2020

The Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta, under the direction of pianist William Ransom, presented from Emerson Concert hall the last of its Beethoven series concerts. This performance was live-steamed only on Friday, December 4, via the Schwartz Center’s virtual stage and has  subsequently been made available there for streaming on demand.

Members of the Vega String Quartet: Jessica Shuang Wu, violin, Yinzi Kong, viola and Guang Wang, violoncello performed to the virtual public the last of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 9 String Trios, the one in c-minor.

While generally considered a ”minor” work, or a predecessor of the more famous string quartets, it is in fact a fully grown composition of a young Beethoven, well written and full of delicious details. With its four movements (“Allegro con spirito,” “Adagio con espressione,” “Scherzo – Allegro molto e vivace” and “Finale – Presto”) this work brings a great energy and passion right from the beginning. All the contrasts, dynamic range and the typical use of unusual harmonies of the later Beethoven are already present.


The score has been well performed by the Vega trio, which certainly lacks no energy and sense of drama. The second movement, with its sense of peace and melancholy, was played with a broad range of dynamics, but unfortunately also with some uncertain intonation. The last two movements, again full of “con brio” moments and certainly asking a lot from the players on the technical side were surely the great showcase for this trio, which proved its professionalism and musicality. It would have been a great rendering, passionate and ardent, if not for the few moments of rhythmical imprecision, which disturbed me a little. But, even if recorded to video it is nevertheless a live concert, where all this can happen.

The second part of the program was filled by the Beethoven’s last violin sonata, the Violin Sonata No. 10 in G major, Op. 96,  written in 1812, published in 1816, and dedicated to Beethoven’s pupil Archduke Rudolph Johannes Joseph Rainier of Austria who gave it the first performance, together with the violinist Pierre Rode.


Here again, as in previous concerts, the violinist David Coucheron and pianist William Ransom dominated the stage with all their capacities including their outstanding musical sensitivity . The first movement, “Allegro moderato,” with its well-known opening trill, was a real showcase of finesse, musical gusto and well-chosen tempi. Both gentlemen must be so used to playing together that they even do not look at each other, landing with total precision all the “ensemble” notes, Usually this means one of two possible situations; practicing together dozens of times, or, as mentioned before, playing so much music together, until a sort of magnetic feeling appears and gives them this capacity of precision.

The second movement, “Adagio espressivo,” again with perfect choice of tempo, was a real highlight of the whole concert, perfect delicacy, well captured sound underlining the dialogue between the violin and the piano and a certain noblesse of touch.

The short scherzo, with all its trills, was scintillating as a sea of shining stars. My only concern: maybe somebody can turn the pages to the pianist next time? Some of the page turns were only millisecond away from a disastrous plummet of the score.

Violinist David Coucheron and pianist William Ransom. (source: Screen capture)

Violinist David Coucheron and pianist William Ransom. (source: Screen capture)

Finally the last movement: “Poco allegretto,” a set of seven variations and a coda. As we know from Beethoven’s letters, he decided not to transform the finale into a firework of virtuosity as usual, this particular work being written for the violinist Pierre Rode, who, in Beethoven’s own words, did not like “rushing and resounding passages, … this hinders me somewhat.” Quite a frank statement from somebody thinking all the time in a double way – as a composer, but also as an interpreter. The movement is based on a beautiful theme and certainly lacks no occasions to showcase the players’ abilities. The Coucheron and Ransom duo used this to everybody’s satisfaction.

Once again I had the pleasure to sneak into an observer’s position “over the pond,” which, in normal times would be unthinkable. As to understand from pianist Ransom’s final words the next concerts will continue online only, on one side I would welcome this chance to follow and listen to Atlanta’s vital chamber music scene, but on the other side with all my heart I would wish to the executing artists anywhere in the world the “real thing”, a true concert with audience, an experience nothing else will ever match. ■

Giorgio Koukl is a Czech-born pianist/harpsichordist and composer who resides in Lugano, Switzerland. Among his many recordings are the complete solo piano works and complete piano concertos of Bohuslav Martinů on the Naxos label. He has also recorded the piano music of Tansman, Lutosławski, Kapralova, and A. Tcherepnin, amongst others, for the Grand Piano label. Koukl is currently at work recording the solo piano music of Hungarian composer Tibor Harsányi.