Review: Slack & Keller

Schuyler Slack, cello
Ingrid Keller, piano
July 23, Dominion Energy Center

In the most musically substantive program so far in the Richmond Symphony Summer Series’ salute to the 200th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth, symphony cellist Schuyler Slack and University of Richmond faculty pianist Ingrid Keller contrasted two of the composer’s mature sonatas for their instruments.

The Sonata in A major, Op. 69, perhaps the most frequently performed of Beethoven’s five cello sonatas, is a work of his middle period, dating from 1808, when he was still writing in the standard classical sonata form but anticipating romanticism in his expressive language – notably, in this sonata, in emotive elaborations of its first-movement theme and in the slow introduction of its final movement.

The Sonata in C major, first of the Op. 102 set, vintage 1815, is characteristic of much of Beethoven’s later compositions in being forward-looking while also harking back to virtually antique models. Its oversized, three-part finale recalls the free-standing concert arias of Mozart, Haydn and other classical-period composers – an expressively wide-ranging aria, at that, whose solemn opening recitative evolves into a spirited, borderline comic tune that wouldn’t have sounded out of place if sung by Papageno in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

Serving this full plate of musical language, Slack and Keller generally opted for straightforwardly voiced, nicely balanced treatments of the the sonatas’ faster music and measured, soulful readings of more lyrical passages, with deft handling of these pieces’ multiple mood changes and extra attention given to pregnant pauses, especially in Op. 102, No. 1.

Keller noted in her introductory remarks that the she and Slack had an unusually ample three weeks of rehearsal time – presumably as a duo; undoubtedly each player spent more hours individually working on their demanding parts. Both sounded prepared to go well beyond mere rendering of the right notes at the right balances, especially in negotiating the multiple technical and spiritual currents of the later sonata.

Introducing this third of six summer recitals by musicians of the symphony, the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University, David Fisk, the orchestra’s executive director, noted that the streams of these programs, produced by Virginia Public Media, are being seen and heard by a larger and more geographically widespread audience, extending well beyond US borders.

Slack and Keller dedicated their program to memory of Betty Brown Allan, a cellist and founding member of the symphony, who died in May.

The video stream of the recital by Schuyler Slack and Ingrid Keller may be accessed through July 29, and subsequent programs in the Richmond Symphony Summer Series, at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 13, are open to limited numbers of patrons in Dominion Energy Center’s Gottwald Playhouse and via online streams. Tickets: $12 per concert. Details: (804) 788-1212; (Tickets may be purchased through links from that address.)

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