One day concert reviews won’t begin with a mention of COVID-19. Until then we must adapt, as we did Sunday (November 15) when the Georgian Chamber Players gave their livestream-only performance at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta’s ongoing Concerts@First series. The church was intricately and expertly wired for sound and provided stellar audio quality and crystal-clear video, still one can’t help but wince at the obvious lack of enthusiastic applause or the communal spirit so crucial to a live concert.
Now in their 38th season, the Georgian Chamber Players showcase a who’s who of Atlanta’s classical elite, featuring violists Paul Murphy and Zhenwei Shi, cellists Christopher Rex and Rainer Eudeikis, and violinist Helen Hwawa Kim, along with the omnipresent Coucheron siblings — violinist David and pianist Julie. The afternoon’s performance titled “A Musical Respite: Beethoven & Brahms,” certainly was that, a welcome relief from the ennui of a world besieged by a pandemic, an election crisis and other large-scale aggravations.
Julie Coucheron, alongside her brother, played the first piece, Beethoven’s Piano and Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Major. Her opening remarks offered a pleasant and heartwarming perspective on its significance. She and David have played this piece since they were young, she said, and would be reading from sheet music that still carries their mother’s practice notes.
From the opening of the Allegro con Brio, the Coucherons were in peak form, effortlessly commanding the piece’s considerable technical demands. This was Julie Coucheron’s moment to shine, with flurries of virtuosity bursting from nimble fingers. The Tema Con Variazioni showcased David Couchereon’s smooth tonal side to great effect before evolving into brash abandon in the piece’s more sinister moments, highlighting the violinist’s excellent dynamic range. Finally the Rondo: Allegro saw Julie Coucheron take the foreground once more, again stunning with her grasp of the piece’s percolating intensity.
Next was Beethoven’s Duet With Two Obligato Eyeglasses, rousing and joyous with an instant and often–dizzying sense of energy. Eudekis, on cello, flew through intricate passages with a sense of abandon that traded off fluidly with Shi on viola.
The final piece was Brahms’ spellbinding String Sextet No. 1 in Bb Major. If there’s one shade of criticism to offer, it’s this: Brahms shouldn’t be included in any event touting itself as a “respite.” His is not the music of lighthearted frivolity — Vivaldi or Handel have that sort of thing covered. Brahms is the music of chaotic mood swings, the soundtrack of a mind driven mad by its pursuit of fleeting bursts of joy under the crushing weight of the world. This sort of auditory vivisection of the soul shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. When performed well, it leaves listeners emotionally reeling.
This isn’t to say that the Georgian Chamber Players weren’t up for the challenge. Their instantly majestic, soaring performance captured Brahms’ dark, sinister nature and each player seemed to dig into a shadowy place of Jungian depth as they brought form and substance to the willfully erratic, brooding composition.
The fiery Rondo: poco allegretto e grazioso brought the Sextet to a righteous close, but it was, nevertheless, anticlimactic without what should have been a standing ovation from a live audience. Regardless, the players carried themselves well, bowing to an empty room. One day, they’ll again hear the roaring applause they deserve.
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