Peter Minkler (viola) & Lura Johnson (piano) @ An Die Musik

Seems this month is just chock full of new contributors. Welcome Sam Buker, a new A.S. member with a taste for good classical and jazz.

A rare treat in the summer: classical chamber taking a brave stance. Try a sonata (1979) by American George Rochberg, a serialist composer who turned back to tonality after the death of his son. Great deep force from the piano — enough to slam the front seats back a foot. Fantastic thrusts from violist Peter Minkler. But he and Lura Johnson were just warming up for the Shostakovich.

In a brilliant stroke of programming (for which she gave full credit to Minkler), Ms. Johnson gave us Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata. This offered even the dullest listener the joy of finding the golden nuggets of Beethoven quotation in Dmitri Dmitreyevich’s last work: Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147.

The execution of the “Moonlight” was less brilliant. Perhaps Ms. Johnson was content to rest on the laurels of former D.C. recital-circuit repertoire remembrance. You’d have thought she was sight-reading the Adagio. However, she managed to requite herself with the Presto, coaxing one suspender-clad audience member to whoop.

Now, onto the triumph… Shostakovich composed this work on his deathbed. See the evidence of a hand shaking so badly it could hardly scratch down the notes: http://www.omifacsimiles.com/brochures/shost_vs.html

Dmitri worked from July – August 6, 1975 — handing the score to the violist three days before he died. The violist was Fyodor Druzhinin of the Beethoven Quartet, apropos non? Shostakovich to Druzhinin: The first movement – a novella. Second a Scherzo. “The Finale an adagio in memory of Beethoven; but don’t let that inhibit you.”

While you might say Johnson’s solo Adagio was inhibited, by the time we arrived at the echoing broken arpeggios of Dmitri’s Adagio we were in a sweet limbo, lyricism shining a shaft through the deep space of old age. Minkler’s viola was clear and brilliant, never resting in melancholia. And, as with the rapid-fire percussive dances of his quartets, you’ve got a wild run of an Allegretto to keep up your spirit and hurl you into the deepened quietude of the Adagio. All that prepared for by the arresting opening pizzicato on the viola in the beginning Moderato. Passion kept Johnson on her toes, quite literally, she several times twined her pointy-toed shoe round the edge of the bench leg for balance. Best of all: the finish. Good bless the dying Shostakovich, who knows the value of suddenly slipping down to the lowest keys on the piano — just for a moment — before giving way to the viola.

Meanwhile, we anticipate this duo’s recording of the Rochberg and Shostakovich to come out in 2009 on the Centaur Label. As should you.

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2 Responses to “Peter Minkler (viola) & Lura Johnson (piano) @ An Die Musik”

  1. Lex O says:

    Great to see a classical review in this space! I suspect many in the Aural States audience would likely be shocked at how totally gutsy, arty, and edgy the music of Shostakovich is, as well as a handful of other composers of his ilk. Seems a shame to call it simply “classical” for that tends to limit its exposure for those in today’s culture who might not look too far outside their comfortable genre.
    I was also at this performance and have to say the music — particularly the Shostakovich — was inspiring and transcendant! Reviewer Buker has captured its essence here marvelously.
    Kudos! More!

  2. Erik Kestler says:

    Are there any tonal composers who move to serialism after significant deaths or other traumatic events?

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