Pianist William Ransom and cellist Christopher Rex. (source: video frame capture)

Review: ECMSA serves up more Beethoven for second Bach’s Lunch concert

Mark Gresham | 02 NOV 2020 @ 6:00am ET

On Friday, another episode of the “Bach’s Lunch” series from Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta was live-streamed from First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, once again not any music of by Bach, but a violin sonata and a cello sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven — another step forward in ECMSA’s mission to celebrate the 250th anniversary of his birth year by presenting the complete cycle of Beethoven’s violin and cello sonatas, string quartets and piano sonatas before the end of the 2020 calendar year.

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Returning for this iteration was violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti and pianist William Ransom (ECMSA’s artistic director), who performed in one of ECMSA’s “Cooke Noontime Series” concerts at First Presbyterian three weeks prior. Joining them this time around was cellist Christopher Rex, the former principal cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra who retired in 2018 after serving in that position for 39 years.

Unlike that particular ECMSA Cooke Series concert, which was performed in a corner of the sanctuary, for this Bach’s Lunch concert the musicians were restored to the more familiar front-and-center spot on the chancel, which gave it a more appealing appearance in the video (as it would had it been performed to an in-person audience).

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Rex and Ransom opened the hour-long program with Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor (Op. 5, No. 2), then Moretti, who is director of the McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University in Macon, joined Ransom for the second half in performing the composer’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major (Op. 24).

The Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor (Op. 5, No. 2), like its companion No. 1, has only two movements. The first movement has an Adagio introduction that is almost Handelian in its dotted and double-dotted rhythms that give it a character of a French overture, ending in a half cadence that leads directly into the Allegro. The Allegro itself is curious in that although in G minor it ends in G major, then the second movement, a galloping Rondo (also Allegro) is decidedly in G major but includes a diversion into C major for a while. It’s a good example of Beethoven pursuing new formal directions, even in his early works. The music exudes youthful enthusiasm that was well-reflected in the performance.

Violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti and pianist William Ransom. (source: video frame capture)

Violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti and pianist William Ransom. (source: video frame capture)

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5, nicknamed the “Spring Sonata,” a four-movement work, has its own peculiarity in that the Scherzo is unusually brief — a total of one minute and 15 seconds in all out of a 24 minute work. The slow movement which precedes it is extraordinarily lovely; the outer movements tuneful and joyous. It was a fine choice to close the program.

The overall concert included just 55 minutes of music in all. It was upbeat in demeanor and appropriate to the mid-day broadcast time, but would be good listening for any hour. The program can still be heard on demand at www.firstpresatl.org/concerts-at-first.

It was the beginning of a very full weekend for ECMSA, with the Vega Strong Quartet scheduled to perform the sixth and final installment of its cycle of Beethoven’s complete string quartets, live-streamed from Emerson Hall in Emory University’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. A review of that concert is also forthcoming.  ■