Pianists Julie Coucheron and Elizabeth Pridgen play Mozart's "Sonata for Piano Four-hands in D major, K. 381/123a (1772). Page turner: Brandon Lau. (credit: Mark Gresham)

Chamber music in the Attic: Georgian Chamber Players captivate at Decatur’s acclaimed acoustic venue

CONCERT REVIEW:
Georgian Chamber Players
May 17, 2023
Eddie’s Attic
Decatur, GA
David Coucheron & Juston Bruns, violin; Zhenwei Shi, viola; Charae Kreuger, cello;Julie Coucheron & Elizabeth Pridgen, piano.

W.A. MOZART: Sonata for Piano Four-Hands in D major, K.381/123a
Johannes BRAHMS: Hungarian Dances nos. 1 & 5
Johann HALVORSEN: Passacaglia for Violin and Cello, after Handel
Robert SCHUMANN: Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44

Mark Gresham | 19 MAY 2022

Founded in 1992 by Eddie Owen, Eddie’s Attic in downtown Decatur, Georgia, is a music club of nationally esteem as an intimate live venue for aspiring and accomplished performing songwriters, some of whom got their start in the Atlanta area, such as Shawn Mullins, Jennifer Nettles, Michelle Malone, the Indigo Girls, and Justin Bieber.

But Eddie’s Attic has also been host to classical chamber music on occasion, most notably during 2014 when the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra experienced a second lockout in two years and ASO musicians presented “United by Music” chamber concerts there.

On Wednesday evening, the Georgian Chamber Players performed a 9:00 pm classical chamber music concert at Eddie’s Attic, on the heels of an early 7:00 pm show of all-original music by the instrumental acoustic quartet Hawktail (fiddler Brittany Haas, bassist Paul Kowert, guitarist Jordan Tice, and mandolinist Dominick Leslie).


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The GCP program opened with music for piano, four hands, performed by Julie Coucheron and Elizabeth Pridgen. Playing on the Attic’s house baby grand, their performance was nicely balanced and came across well in the space.

First on the docket was W.A. Mozart’s Sonata for Piano Four-Hands in D major, K.381/123a, a cheerful, light-hearted piece written for performance by the composer and his sister Nannerl, who was as accomplished a keyboardist as her brother. Pridgen played the secundo part, and Coucheron the primo. The third movement was especially energetic.

They followed with Hungarian Dances, nos. 1 and 5, by Johannes Brahms. The two pianists traded places for the first of these, then swapped back for the second.


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Norwegian violinist, conductor, and composer Johan Halvorsen (1864 – 1935) is primarily remembered today for this Passacaglia for Violin and Viola, freely adapted from the “Passacaglia” that closes the Harpsichord Suite in G minor (HWV 432) by German Baroque composer George Frideric Handel.

Halvorsen’s publisher in Copenhagen, Wilhelm Hansen, wisely engaged the editor Michael Press to create a transcription for violin and cello. Violinist David Coucheron and cellist Charae Kreuger performed that version in this concert.

Whether the violin is partnered with a viola or a cello, this Passacaglia is an attractive tour de force, but the cello version does add considerable depth to the sonic spectrum. Technically challenging for both performers, it shows off a range of techniques and musical expressions. Coucheron and Kreuger played it with enthusiastic abandon, on the edge of risking it getting away from them.

Violinist david Coucheron and cellist Charae Krueger. (credit: Mark Gresham)

Violinist david Coucheron and cellist Charae Krueger. (credit: Mark Gresham)

But that is okay because the Attic’s excellent acoustics both pose risks and encourage adventuring musical risks. Unlike the “clarity with a sheen” of Spivey Hall or First Presbyterian Church, the listening room at Eddie’s Attic (in this concert entirely unamplified) delivers a sound that is both authentic and visceral. The effect with string instruments is like sitting among the musicians; the listener is surprisingly conscious of bowing and other articulation details, string timbre robustness, and spatial grasp of counterpoint.

That was especially noticeable in the final work on the program when both Coucherons and Kreuger were joined onstage by violinist Justin Bruns and violist Zhenwei Shi for Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44.

In the “Allegro brillante” first movement, one can easily imagine the presence of Schumann’s two fictional personal personas: the more wildly extroverted Florestan in the primary theme and the more introspective Eusebius in the contrasting dolce second theme.

l-r: David Coucheron, Justin Bruns, Julie Coucheron, Charae Krueger, and Zhenwei Shi perform Robert Schumann's Piano Quintet. (credit: Mark Gresham)

l-r: Violinists David Coucheron (in shadow) & Justin Bruns, pianist Julie Coucheron, cellist Charae Krueger, and violist Zhenwei Shi perform Robert Schumann’s “Piano Quintet.” (credit: Mark Gresham)

The second movement, “In modo d’una marcia. Un poco largamente,” a seven-part rondo with a funereal primary theme, was followed by the lively “Scherzo: Molto vivace” with two trios, one a lyrical canon and the other a restlessly modulating moto perpetuo that was rather demanding on the strings.

The “Allegro ma non troppo” finale veered away from conventional sonata form with unusual harmonic explorations, reaching a contrapuntal climax somewhat reminiscent of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, then an emphatic sempre fortissimo coda.

For classical music, “alternative venues” seemed all the rage ten years ago, but except for contemporary music, that seems to have diminished somewhat. It felt terrific to experience the high-level performance of classical music again at Eddie’s Attic on the same stage where other down-to-earth acoustic music is the daily norm. Somehow, that occasional alternating mix of acoustic genres belongs in this space. It should happen more.

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About the author:
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.

Read more by Mark Gresham.
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