Merkin Concert Hall
Jeanne Mallow, viola
Vladimir Valjarevic, piano
Saturday, March 11th, 2006 at 8:00 PM
By Mr. Robert Ekselman
Antonio Vivaldi, Sonata no. 1 in B Flat Major
Transcribed for viola by William Primrose
Robert Schumann Marchenbilder, Op. 113
- Nicht schnell
- Langsam, mit melancholischem Ausdruck
William Keith Rogers
- Andante con moto
- Allegro commodo
Sergei Rachmaninov Sonata in G Minor, Op.19
(1873-1943) Transcribed by V. Borisovsky
- Lento-Allegro moderato
- Allegro scherzando
- Allegro mosso
When a musician is born into a musical lineage there is always an expectation to live up to. Jeanne Mallow’s grandmother was the renowned violist Lillian Fuchs. Ms. Mallow’s great uncle Joseph Fuchs had an equally stellar career as a violinist. (Coincidentally, Joseph Fuchs – sprightly, and at that time in his early nineties – was my own inspirational coach in quartet studies at The Juilliard School.) Both artists played and recorded on many occasions with the great Pablo Casals and, living active playing and teaching lives up to a ripe age, influenced and inspired generations of string players at both The Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music where Lillian Fuchs also taught for many years.
Multi-talent seems to run abundant in the family. Jeanne’s great uncle, Harry Fuchs, was a fine cellist, and principal of the New York Philharmonic for several seasons. Jeanne’s mother Barbara Stein Mallow is not only a fine cellist, but equally a fine pianist and composer. Jeanne Mallow’s grandmother Lillian also was a composer as well as arranger.
The program choice was a traditional one, notable for including three works transcribed from the cello (Rachmaninov’s Sonata Op. 19, Vivaldi’s Sonata No. 1 in B flat major, and the encore, Rachmaninov’s Vocalise). But then why not? The cello, as limited as its repertoire is compared with the piano, nevertheless has a richer stock of solo material than the viola, which was not until more recent times regarded as a solo instrument. This transformation in attitude of composers and public alike was brought about largely thanks to the determination and imagination of violist pioneers such as Lillian Fuchs, and the arranger of the Vivaldi heard in this program, William Primrose.
The Vivaldi Sonata No.1 is not particularly memorable, although it is very characteristic of his string writing style. This piece is not often heard in recital, even on the cello, but set a dignified mood for the evening. The two slow movements had grace and charm, as well as an unhurried melodic poise. The two faster movements fairly bounded out of the score and projected – from both players – an infectious joy of music making. Fast passagework was clearly articulated, with not a note swallowed or smudged. Accompanist Vladimir Valjarevic, who hails originally from Yugoslavia, offered particularly fine support. In fact the ensemble work in the Vivaldi was so tight and of one mind, that it felt virtually like one instrument.
The four short Marchenbilder of Robert Schumann, written as original viola works, are in character not unlike the Fantasie Stucke for the cello. Lugubrious and brooding, then alternately triumphant, these short morsels offer a challenge in presenting the multifaceted and tormented personality of the composer, whose writing is sometimes structurally, and certainly harmonically, irregular. Often the piano and viola part appear to be working in different planes at the same time, and yet the music needs to reflect cohesion. If anything the more upbeat mood of the composer was in the foreground in this performance, which was noble, forthright and convincing. The ending of the fourth (final) piece, Langsam, mit melancholischem Ausdruck appears quite unexpectedly, and almost seems out of place.
The Sonatina by contemporary Canadian composer William Keith Rogers was the most recent work on the program, although written in a neo-romantic vain. It sounded to me like there was an influence of the French composers of the post-war period, not surprising given that Mr. Rogers studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in France. The first movement had a breezy charm to it. The larghetto opened with a viola monologue and was then followed by imitative patterns in the piano writing. The fast movement reminded me of Kabalevsky, with the addition of some syncopations and a jazz influence. All three movements are on the very short side. It is an appealing work, and one that may be enjoyed from first listening. Commendably, both pianist and violist were able to project power without the slightest harshness of tone.
The second half of the program featured the much-loved Sonata for cello and piano Op. 19 of Rachmaninov. The accompaniment can hardly be called an accompaniment at all, and in fact the reverse, if anything, is the case. Ms. Mallow was able to not only hold her own against a tide of notes from the keyboard, but projected the second movement theme more successfully than most cellists I’ve heard! Unfortunately – speaking in terms of the arrangement – the many broken register leaps detracted, for me at least, from the success of this version of the Sonata even though Ms. Mallow did not let technical considerations impact on her interpretation; not even an inch! The climaxes were taut and perfectly well placed; one felt the heat of the moment! There may have been more repose, but this would be my only criticism.
Vladimir Valjarevic displayed fine skills as accompanist, a player of pellucid touch, intelligence, and subtlety of tone. He would even have been excused for having exerted his presence more forcefully in the Rachmaninov work, where I felt Ms. Mallow was clearly leading. I would like to hear him in a solo recital, and hope to have this opportunity in the near future.
A few general words about Ms. Mallow’s playing; it is not common these days to hear a ‘real’ string tone, and especially a real viola tone, one that does not sound like a cellist playing with the sound-post removed, for want of a better expression. Ms. Mallow’s tone had an earthiness, a resonance and a depth that comes from a core of artistic conviction. It is this kind of genuine warmth that has deservedly gained for so many string players in the Fuchs family such recognition. The consistency of her tone was striking, as was the clarity of her articulation over the whole range.
Jeanne Mallow is a heart-felt performer, her ideas never sounding at all calculated. Her playing is lacking in all superficial effect for its own sake. Rachmaninov’s Vocalise (‘stolen’, once again, from the cello literature) concluded this fine and engaging ‘cello’ recital.