ECMSA: Beethoven’s Fifth

The Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta opened the Emerson Series with a concert of all Beethoven music cleverly titled “Beethoven’s Fifth.” It featured two of his early works, the violin sonata no. 5 (the Spring Sonata) and string quartet no. 5, as well as an orchestration of Beethoven’s symphony no. 5 for piano with four hands.

William Ransom accompanied violinist Margeaux Maloney on piano for the Spring Sonata. I think that I’ve heard Maloney play at the Carlos before, though I don’t recall much about it. Originally from Atlanta, she’s a Julliard grad working on a graduate certificate in performance at the University of Southern California. The sonata is a very lively, joyful piece, which was somewhat undermined by Maloney’s ginger approach to it that, at times, seemed even a little timid. Perhaps she was nervous or perhaps she didn’t have enough time to work on the piece, but her playing seemed to hint that she actually had a lot to offer that just wasn’t coming out during this concert for whatever the reason.

The Vega String Quartet took the stage next for the fifth string quartet. From the go, this piece is very obviously from his earlier career, before he became the bridge between the Classical and Romantic periods. It sounds kind of Mozartish but is definitely recognizable as a Beethoven piece, with lots of spirit and with themes being passed around the players almost like a children’s game. I particularly liked the richness that the Vega Quartet brought to the second movement.

The final piece of the evening was the fifth symphony for piano four hands, performed by Ransom and Elizabeth Pridgen. Ransom, in his introduction, pointed out that it used to be very common for orchestral music to be arranged for four hands so that people could play them at home. I’ve generally not been a big fan of the pieces that I’ve heard arranged for four hands — they tend to lose a lot of the nuance and grandeur that can be found in a full orchestration. If I feel that such arrangements are better left to the parlor than the concert hall, I generally don’t feel cheated when such a piece shows up on a program. And if I were a pianist, I’d probably really enjoy playing this with either Ransom or Pridgen: both are very good pianists whose work I enjoy greatly and both seemed to have had a lot of fun playing it with each other. As such, it’s hard for me to blame Ransom for wanting to put it on the program and, honestly, when the musicians seem to be having a lot of fun playing, the sentiment become infectious and the audience tends to enjoy themselves that much more.

This particular arrangement didn’t have trouble grabbing the audience, even if it did lose a lot in translation. I found the first movement a little cheesy — almost a parody of the real thing — but the second movement, which is my favorite when played by a full orchestra, was rather interesting. Even though the core was the same, the movement came across as a very different piece of music. It lost some of its gentility but retained it’s sweetness. It kind of came across to me like someone telling a story about the second movement: emphasizing all the good parts and leaving me wanting to go out and hear it. The third and fourth movements, I think, translated much better. They retained their grandeur and excitement quite well.

All in all, it was a pretty good start to the season and, looking at the season brochure, there are a lot of concerts coming up that I’m really looking forward to.

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