Mark Gresham | 8 APR 2022
There is not a lot of reliable information about the French early classical cellit-composer Martin Berteau (1691–1771) except that he was best known as a teacher of cello and the founder of the French school of cello playing. Many of his compositions have been lost or misattributed to other composers – not to mention the music of other composers attributed to Berteau.
The Trio in E minor (1748), with which Sunday’s concert began, is No. 6 of Berteau’s Opus 1, billed collectively as Cello Sonatas. While No. 6 also goes by the name “Cello Sonata” at times, its use of two cellos and basso continuo begs for the better legitimacy of “Trio” as the more appropriate term, even if the lead cello part should dominate as the soloist (as in a 2014 recording on the Chandos label).
But in this performance, the KSU Cellos were more even-handed about the balance of parts, making it even more of a “Trio” of near-equals. Furthermore, they played with two cellos per part (three parts, two cellos each) and dispensed with the notion of a keyboard instrument participating in the continuo part.
The particular combination of musicians was intriguing. Jesús Castro-Balbi has been the new Director of Kennesaw State University’s Bobbie Bailey School of Music since July 2021, so is a new musical force in town to watch.
Charae Krueger has been a faculty member at KSU since 2006, where she is a Lecturer and Artist in Residence in cello. She is also the Principal Cellist for the Atlanta Opera Orchestra and the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra.
Two non-KSU professionals involved were cellist Hilary Glen, an Atlanta Opera and Atlanta Ballet Orchestra member, and Alexis Lee, a cellist in the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra. A pair of KSU student cellists, Emily Travis and Danielle Ramey, were gifted the opportunity to perform with these four pros in two works for cello sextet, the part-doubled Berteau work that opened, and Bohemian Rhapsody in the penultimate program slot.
Castro-Balbi, Krueger, Glen, and Lee performed the famous “Air” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068, arranged by Aldo Parisotfor cello quartet. Castro-Balbi took the solo part, giving this audeince a first chance to hear his lucid phrasing on the well-known solo line, although I would have liked to have heard his part a little more prominently in the mix.
Pianist Eric Jenkins then joined Castro-Balbi and Krueger onstage to perform the Suite for Two Cellos and Piano (1973) by Gian Carlo Menotti.
Although primarily known by the public for his output of 25 operas, Menotti’s rarer chamber music is something listeners should not overlook. The Suite for Two Cellos and Piano is a product of his later years, after the breakup of his romantic relationship with Samuel Barber and before founding the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, as a companion festival to his Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of the Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy.
The music’s drama and voice-like dialogue between the two equally expressive and challenging cello parts reveal Menotti’s debt to the influences of opera, particularly Puccini. The second and fourth movements are particular achievements of the cellists’ dexterity. The Suite was performed compellingly in this concert.
Possibly the most outstanding cellist of the final decades of the 19th century, David Popper was also a prolific composer of cello music, spanning both concert works and instructional studies. His Requiem for Three Cellos and Piano (1892) is highly expressive, elegiac, and melancholy. Each of the three cellists is afforded a solo during its mere eight minutes. Glen joined Castro-Balbi, Krueger, and Jenkins for this moving performance.
The program then returned to music for cello quartet with music of contemporary Mexican composer José Elizondo (b. 1972), Otoño in Buenos Aires: Tempo di Tango (Autumn in Buenos Aires) from Danzas Latinoamericanas (1997). Like much of the nuevo tango music of Argentine composer Astor Piazzola, Danzas Latinoamericanas is available in a wide variety of instrumentations, with nearly six dozen different versions available through Elizondo’s website. This one happens to be for a cello quartet (Castro-Balbi, Lee, Glen, and Krueger). It exhibits a great deal of appeal, even if somewhat riding on the coattails of Piazzola’s popularity.
The last two pieces on the program were arrangements of music widely known in popular culture.
The first, arranged for cello sextet, was Bohemian Rhapsody by Freddie Mercury, a song written for the 1975 album A Night at the Opera by the British rock band Queen that achieved and still remains a success among mainstream audiences after nearly half a century.
The concert was capped off with a different kind of nostalgia, a cello quartet arrangement of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer (1902), which gained renewed interest during the Ragtime Revival movement of the late 1960s and early 70s, especially as the theme for the 1973 Paul Newman/Robert Redford film, The Sting. ■
- Bobbie Bailey School of Music at Kennesaw State University: arts.kennesaw.edu/music/