by Jane Berkner
On February 9 in E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron, Tuesday Musical Association presented a pre-Valentine’s Day celebration of marriage. The wife and husband duo of flutist Marina Piccinini and pianist Andreas Haefliger gave masterful performances of demanding literature, gifting the audience with a world premiere and a few wedding presents.
Their performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata in D, which began the program, brimmed with character. Playing the second movement at a particularly fast pace gave it a quick and quirky temperament, making the middle section even more striking in its sudden shift to a slower attitude. Piccinini played the introspective third movement with a sublime, otherworldly sound. In the athletic fourth movement, she took us on a silky ride across its herculean interval changes, with smooth technique that was matched by Haeflinger’s clean, articulate playing.
In his pre-concert lecture, Akron flutist George Pope pointed out that only three years separate the premieres of Prokofiev’s Sonata (1943) and Pierre Boulez’s Sonatine (1946). In the meanwhile, Prokofiev’s neo-classic musical language gave way to a new style: a serial, twelve-tone technique.
Introducing the Boulez, Haefliger commented that the serialism exists not only in the compositional components, but also between the two players. “It’s like a painting, where you see certain things, and then you get close and you see others.” Quoting an article by David Schiff from The Atlantic, Haefliger said that “Boulez smashed the musical atom, releasing in the sonatina an explosion of musical violence, nervousness, and instability.”
Piccinini and Haefliger crafted an insightful framework of phrasing that coaxed a clear narrative line out of Boulez’s explosive, bombastic musical material, which is so often difficult for an audience to decipher. They gave the Sonatine a human voice.
The third work on the program was the world premiere of Marc-André Dalbavie’s Nocturne, a piece composed for Haefliger’s and Piccinini’s 25th wedding anniversary. Dalbavie is known for writing “spectral” music, a compositional style in which timbre is as important as pitch or duration. The Nocturne had a minimalist quality, which Piccinini referred to as the “soundscape of French tradition.” The hauntingly lovely piece explored articulation as a kind of tonal sonority.
The final work on the program, César Franck’s Sonata in A, was written as a wedding present for violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, who gave the premiere in 1886. When introducing the second half of the program, Piccinini had asked that the audience not applaud between the Dalbavie and the Franck, and the absence of applause created an effective elision. The duo began the Franck with an introspective, unhurried quality which merged the inner-directed mood of the diminutive new work into the beginning of the enormous Romantic sonata.
Piccinini is hugely original. Perhaps unconventional in her interpretations, her musical conviction and control are indisputable, her artistic vision and voice inspired. Her transcription of the Franck allowed for an often quiet, tranquil, and languid perspective, a suitable voice for flute in a piece originally conceived for violin. The duo’s level of expressiveness was remarkable, both performers employing extreme dynamics that distinguished the work’s many mood swings.
The sonatas that began and ended the program contained robust passages that often required the instruments to play in the same register. The brightness of the piano, combined with the dull and ornery acoustics of E.J. Thomas Hall, created balance problems throughout the evening.
The duo followed multiple curtain calls with an encore, an exquisite, hushed performance of their arrangement of “Morgen!” by Richard Strauss. The last of his Four Songs (Op. 27), it was written as a wedding present for his wife Pauline.
While there weren’t any words in this flute and piano rendition, the last lines of John Henry Mackay’s poem illustrate the touching and thought-provoking way in which this duo-couple approached their program: “silently we will look in each other’s eyes and upon us will sink the mute silence of happiness.”
Jane Berkner became a correspondent for Clevelandclassical.com in 2014. A professional flutist, she has been on the Ohio Artists on Tour roster since 1992. She has performed with numerous Northeast Ohio orchestras, including the Akron, Ashland, Canton, Youngstown, and Tuscarawas Symphony Orchestras, and with guitarist Stephen Aron as the AronBerkner Duo. Having taught at The University of Akron for twenty-five years, she is currently on the faculties of Ashland University and The Music Settlement in Cleveland. She has served on the board of the Ohio Arts Presenters Network, and is currently on the Board of The Chamber Music Society of Ohio.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com February 16, 2016.
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