l-r: David Coucheron, Julie Coucheron, Justin Bruns, Kevin Chen, Zhenwei Shi, Daniel Laufer, Joseph McFadden. (credit: Mark Rainey)

Georgian Chamber Players launch season with Mendelssohn, Brahms

Georgian Chamber Players
November 20, 2022
Peachtree Road United Methodist Church
Atlanta, GA
David Coucheron, Justin Bruns & Kevin Chen, violins; Zhenwei Shi, viola; Daniel Laufer, cello; Joseph McFadden, contrabass; Elizabeth Pridgen & Julie Coucheron, piano.

Felix MENDELSSOHN: Andante and Allegro Brilliante, Op. 92
Johannes BRAHMS: Viola and Piano Sonata No. 2 in E♭ major, Op.120, No. 2
Felix MENDELSSOHN: Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Strings in D minor

Mark Gresham | 23 NOV 2022

The Georgia Chamber Players opened their 2022-23 season on Sunday afternoon with a concert of music by Mendelssohn and Brahms at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. The program brought assured performances of repertoire by these comfortably familiar composers to the appreciative assembled audience.

Elizabeth Pridgen and Julie Coucheron (credit: Mark Rainey)

Elizabeth Pridgen and Julie Coucheron (credit: Mark Rainey)

When Felix Mendelssohn’s Andante and Allegro Brilliante, Op. 92, for four-hand piano four hands, was first published by Breitkopf & Hartel in 1851, the piece was known only as Allegro Brilliant. That’s because the publisher (publishing it posthumously) had left out the Andante, an omission finally rectified when the E. G. Heinemann edition appeared in 1994. Despite that, the piece is still sometimes played without the Andante. (Tradition, you know.)

The Andante is in a singing style reminiscent of his piano solo Songs Without Words. The Allegro Brillante is exultant, scherzo-like, and playful, filled with leggiero staccato patterns and scalar passages for both players. A bright beginning to the concert by pianists Elizabeth Pridgen and Julie Coucheron, who would divide the remainder of the concert’s collaborative keyboard work between them.

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The last chamber works written by Johannes Brahms before his death were the two Clarinet Sonatas, Op. 120, Nos. 1 and 2 (1894). Dedicated to clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, they are two of the greatest masterpieces in the clarinet repertoire. Brahms also produced transcriptions of these works for viola with some alterations to better suit that instrument — most notably the double stops and extensions at the end of the Scherzo’s trio section.

Thus, we have Brahms’ Viola and Piano Sonata No. 2 in E♭ major, played with a confident beauty in this concert by violist Zhenwei Shi and pianist Elizabeth Pridgen.

Zhenwei Shi and Elizabeth Pridgen (credit: Mark Rainey)

Zhenwei Shi and Elizabeth Pridgen (credit: Mark Rainey)

The first movement features the rare tempo marking “Allegro amabile,” implying a somewhat relaxed and fluid mood. But the sonata contains no genuinely slow movement. Instead, the middle movement (“Allegro appasionato”) is a Scherzo of simmering vigor paired with a noble, glowing Trio. The final “Andante con moto – Allegro” movement is a theme and variations that concludes with a joyous, radiant coda. It made a convincing conclusion to the program’s first half.

Felix Mendelssohn wrote his Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Strings in D minor in 1823 when he was 14. Even so, it was his fourth work for a solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment. Like the Piano Concerto in A minor that preceded it, the Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Strings remained unpublished during Mendelssohn’s lifetime but is one of Mendelssohn’s more impressive adolescent works.

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The soloists were violinist David Coucheron and pianist Julie Coucheron. This being a chamber concert, it was good fortune that the string orchestra past can be played by a string quintet; in this instance, violinists Justin Bruns and Kevin Chen, violist Zhenwei Shi, cellist Daniel Laufer, and contrabassist Joseph McFadden.

The Allegro first movement, a sonata form with cadenzas for both soloists, is the longest of the three, comprising over half of the work. The Adagio second movement gave the Coucheron siblings the opportunity for extended dialogue. An effervescent Allegro molto finale of spirited charm brought it to a brilliant end. A happy way to close the concert.


Mark Gresham

Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. he began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.