The Park City and Salt Lake City Music Festival closed out its season Sunday with a matinee concert that featured two early 20th century works Zoltan Kodaly's delightfully lyrical Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 4, and Charles Ives' monumental Piano Sonata No. 2 ("Concord, Massachusetts: 1840-1860").
The Kodaly sonata is rarely performed today, but it is a work of infinite charm and lyricism that belies its neglect. Those present at Sunday's concert were treated to a wonderful performance of this gem by two of the most literate and thoughtful chamber musicians today, cellist Scott Ballantyne and pianist John Jensen.
The duo gave a stunning reading of this two-movement sonata that captured the expressive mood of the opening movement and the rhythmic rapture of the second.
The first movement is quite evocative and successfully blends Hungarian melodic elements with impressionistic writing for the piano (which also occasionally moves into the cello part as well). It opens with a gorgeous solo for the cello, which Ballantyne played exquisitely. The resonant, rich sound of his instrument is well suited for this solo and it added significantly to the finely modulated expressiveness of his interpretation.
The second movement is a captivatingly lively piece, vibrant with Hungarian folk music rhythms. Ballantyne and Jensen played the movement with dynamic energy and, when the music somewhat unexpectedly returns to the opening sections of the first movement, shifted subtly and with finely crafted nuances back into the more lofty realm of these passages. It was beautifully executed and seamlessly played.
Jensen ended the concert with Ives' massive "Concord" Sonata, written around the same time as the Kodaly, but worlds apart in terms of content and impact.
The four movements of the work portray four quintessential New England people or families: Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcotts and Thoreau. The sonata is one of Ives' major works, along with the "Three Places in New England" and the Fourth Symphony, and these three are without question among his best.
Listening to Jensen make sense of the complexities and dense writing of this eclectic score, one was immediately struck by the fact that he is indeed a rare breed of pianist. Jensen is a natural when it comes to works such as the "Concord" Sonata. He tackled the nearly impossible here and gave a wondrously lucid reading that was profound and offered rich insight into the mysteries of the work.
Jensen displayed his immense talent and technical mastery of the piano as he deftly maneuvered his way through the clusters of chords and sonorities and through the many bravura passages in which his fingers flew up and down the keyboard seemingly in a blur. It was a tour de force presentation of a work that few pianists attempt.