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Classical review: Huebl, Wait play Beethoven, Schubert and Ravel

HueblWait1After releasing two CDs that explored the exotica of 20th-century Russian music, violinist Carolyn Huebl and pianist Mark Wait have gone back to the basics. On Tuesday night, the duo presented a meat-and-potatoes program at Turner Hall devoted to the core repertoire. Suffice it to say that the classics have seldom sounded so good.

The opener, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 7 in C minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 30, No. 2, isn’t one of the composer’s better-known works. That’s probably because it doesn’t have a nickname, like “Spring” or “Kreutzer.” Nevertheless, Huebl and Wait made a compelling case that the C-minor sonata should be considered among the composer’s masterpieces.

carolynCertainly, their reading of the sonata implied a nickname – “Eroica.” Too bad it’s already been used. They played the opening movement at a brisk pace, emphasizing the “brio” in Allegro con brio. Their performance of the scherzo was remarkable for its playfulness and crisp detail, and they tossed off the finale’s final measures at breakneck speed.

For all of this Sturm und Drang, I was most impressed with the duo’s rendition of the slow movement. Huebl played this music with the sort of interpretive sweetness you might expect to hear in a simple song. Wait provided accompaniment that was beautifully polished and sensitive.

Maurice Ravel composed his Sonate pour violin et piano in the mid-1920s, after reportedly hearing W.C. Handy in Paris. In her performance, Huebl seemed to be channeling Handy’s spirit. Her strumming and plucking at the opening of the “Blues: Moderato” readily called to mind a bluesman playing guitar. When she finally dug her bow into the strings, the sound that emerged could have been one of Handy’s heartbroken, lyrical laments.

waitWait, for his part, revealed a kaleidoscope’s worth of color in this sonata. He made the fleet figurations in the opening Allegretto seem like the flickering of candlelight. His beautifully weighted and balanced chords seemed to glisten, like light refracted through ice. Both musicians excelled in the finale, a study in perpetual motion that was played with seemingly inexhaustible energy and pizzazz.

The highlight of the program came after intermission, with the duo’s performance of Schubert’s Fantasie in C major for Violin and Piano, D. 934. Huebl has apparently spent most of her career avoiding this diabolically difficult work, learning it for the first time just this past summer. On Tuesday, Huebl and the Fantasie seemed like old friends.

She played the Andante molto and Allegretto movements with a sensuous tone and complete spontaneity – at times it seemed as though she was making the music up on the spot. She definitely got to me with her interpretation of the Andantino, playing this music, which Schubert based on his lied “Sei Mir Gegrüßt,” with aching lyricism. Wait was equally successful, performing with thoughtful immediacy in the slow movement while dispatching the finale’s difficult double notes with seeming effortlessness.

Performances of Schubert’s Fantasie are understandably rare – few musicians are up for the challenge. Huebl and Wait’s reading of the work was apparently the first in Nashville in a generation. Their performance will not soon be forgotten.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.