Giorgio Koukl | 17 NOV 2020
On Sunday afternoon, November 15, at the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, a concert of the Georgian Chamber Players with works from Beethoven and Brahms was performed. It could be viewed online only. No in-person audience was present.
Such a concept, while giving to the musicians and the public an outstanding possibility to perform and enjoy live concerts even in these difficult times, poses a series of challenges and difficulties to both sides. The musicians have no palpable support from the audience following, breathing and enjoying directly with them, and so giving a much valuable feedback.
The public, on the other side, must rely on the experience of the audio and video team which must be able to provide the best possible quality, even knowing that the experience of being personally in the hall will never be equaled.
So, my compliments go first of all to all the people who provided the technical side of the concert. Maybe with exception of Brahms, where the sonic was a little flat and with too much presence of violins, all the other works were perfectly captured. Without this I would never have been able to hop on a plane from Europe to Atlanta and be present personally, so from Switzerland a big thank you to everybody who made this possible.
Now to the single performances.
Julie Coucheron, who seems to be the real driving force behind many Atlanta chamber concerts, presented with a few and witty words the program, logically containing a lot of Beethoven – something in this year 2020 we are already well used to; some of us even waiting with impatience to see this year finally end.
The Piano and Violin Sonata no. 1 is not a typical product of Beethoven and the sympathetic explanation of the pianist Coucheron about her playing this particular sonata with her brother David since their youth added a lot of expectations.
From the first notes it was clear that we have one of the rare cases in music, that of perfect symbiosis between players. I’ve heard this in the past between father and son, between husband and wife and often between brother and sister. It’s a rare gift of which other musicians can only dream. David and Julie Coucheron displayed this gift with great concentration, musical finesse and a perfect control. The technical capacities of both are great, their musical concept is clear. I enjoyed especially the perlato passages of the pianist but also the dynamical richness of the structure. A special mention must be made about the second movement: rarely have I listened to such a careful choice of tempi. Never too much, never displaying only the virtuosic aspect without musical meaning. A really good opening.
Although all the participating musicians have experienced streaming a concert without public present, it was, as Ms Coucheron explained, the first time they have done so as Georgian Chamber Players, so everybody seemed a little under pressure of about how to behave: from the little clumsy bowing in front of an empty church to the problem of changing the stage’s asset with chairs, microphones and the grand Steinway which was pushed aside by the pianist herself; in her red concert dress quite a vision. Anyway, these small details add something more precious to a concert. Maybe we are too used to see everything happen just by magic. Seeing all the fatigue aside of playing is, in my opinion, a didactic way of learning to know a musician’s life.
The other Beethoven, Duet with two obligato eyeglasses, WoO 32 for viola and violoncello, played by Zhenwei Shi, viola and Rainer Eudekis, violoncello, was presented in a very convincing way, full of humor and miles away from a typical academic version so often heard around concert halls. Both gentlemen played with passion and absolute precision letting us all wonder about why Beethoven left such a gem unfinished.
All the final part of the concert was dedicated to Johannes Brahms with his String Sextet no. 1 in B♭ major. The rare form of sextet formed by two violins, two violas and two violincelli was used before only by Luigi Boccherini and after Brahms only by a handful of other composers like Dvořák, Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg, so chamber music groups gratefully play this work even if it is surely not the masterpiece of Brahms.
With its classical endless line and repetitions it surely represents a challenge to any joyous rendering. The musicians (David Coucheron and Helen Hwaya Kim, violins, Zhenwei Shi and Paul Murphy, violas and Rainer Eudekis and Christopher Rex, violincellos) tried their best to interpret this work of a 27-year-old composer but, due in part to the difficulties mentioned above of imperfect audio image and in part maybe to lesser energy visible also in their body language, with the exception of Mr. Murphy, who played with enthusiasm and generosity, the result was less engaging when compared to the precedent music. Still, a great professionalism here. Very good tempo changes, especially in the last movement’s finale but, generally speaking, somehow tired performance.
The overall impression of the concert was very good. The level of each musician is outstanding and the fact that most are used to playing together in the same orchestra is of great advantage. This is the reason why practically every orchestra I know encourages its members to form chamber music groups. It is beneficial for the orchestra’s performance level but also a place for artistic growth of single members. That the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra can display chamber music groups of this level should be considered of great importance. Atlanta can be proud to have such people.
The concert video, entitled A Musical Respite: Beethoven and Brahms, can still be viewed on demand at www.firstpresatl.org/concerts-at-first. ■