October 13, 2021 update on live performances and events at the NAC.

Music For A Sunday Afternoon

Chamber music with the NAC Orchestra
Rossini

Duetto for Cello and Double Bass

Born in Pesaro, February 29, 1792
Died in Paris, November 13, 1868

The repertoire of solo and chamber works incorporating a double bass is relatively small. When you restrict that repertoire to works for the duo combination of double bass and cello, the list of works becomes positively minuscule. And when you further limit the list to famous composers, the result is a single work: Rossini’s Duetto (or Duo). Other contributions to this scant repertoire include Edgar Meyer’s Two Movements for Cello and Bass, Harald Genzmer’s Bagatelles, John Harbison’s Deep Dances and Bottesini’s Duo Concertante on Themes from Bellini’s I Puritani (with orchestra).

Rossini, whose name is known throughout the civilized world as a synonym for opera, actually composed a fair amount of chamber music, some of it for highly unusual combinations of instruments. His earliest such works, composed in just three days when he was all of twelve, are six Sonate a quattro. Rossini avoided calling them “string quartets,” even though technically they are, since they were written for two violins, cello and double bass instead of the traditional two violins, viola and cello. Then there is an Andante con variazioni for harp and viola; a Serenata for string quartet, flute, oboe and English horn; and so on.

The Duetto was written in 1824 for a wealthy amateur cellist, Sir David Salomons, who wanted a piece for himself and the famous double bassist and composer Domenico Dragonetti (1763–1846) to play. The only known performance until modern times was a private one, at Salomons’ home in London on July 21, 1824.

The Duetto remained virtually unknown until the manuscript was sold by the Salomons family at a Sotheby’s auction in 1968. Since then it has impressed those listeners fortunate enough to hear a rare performance with its melodic invention (the final polacca movement is a real charmer!), richness of texture, absolute equality of the partnership, and the bass’s surprising agility and singing quality.

Program notes by Robert Markow

Stewart Goodyear

Piano Quartet

Born in Toronto, February 25, 1978
Now living in Toronto

Stewart Goodyear has been performing at the National Arts Centre since the age of 12. By then he had already been playing the piano for almost a decade, having discovered the instrument at the age of three. It was his father’s collection of LPs, which included much Beethoven, that sparked his keen mind and sent him in the direction of a musical career. By four, he was playing by ear on a toy piano. At 11, he won the Canadian Music Competition, at thirteen he performed his first concerto (Shostakovich No. 1) with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. At 15, Goodyear graduated from the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where he studied with James Anagnoson. Subsequent study took him to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he studied with Leon Fleisher, Gary Graffman and Claude Frank, and to The Juilliard School in New York, where he studied with Oxana Yablonskaya and earned his Master’s degree in piano performance.

Goodyear is renowned for his signature marathon event: performing all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in a single day. This he has done at several venues, including Toronto’s Koerner Hall. His recording of the complete cycle received a JUNO nomination for Best Classical Solo Recording in 2014. Goodyear is also known as an improviser, arranger and composer. He invents his own cadenzas on the spot when performing concertos of the classical period, just as all pianists did in that age, every one different. As an arranger, he has transcribed Tchaikovsky’s complete Nutcracker ballet for solo piano. Goodyear has been composing since the age of eight and has more than a dozen works to his credit, including those with such intriguing titles as Baby Shark Fugue, Count Up, Dogged by Hell Hounds and Callaloo (his orchestral tribute to Trinidad, where half his family grew up); and others with traditional titles like Piano Sonata (first performed at his graduation recital at Curtis), Piano Concerto and Cello Concerto (to be premiered by the NAC Orchestra’s principal cellist, Rachel Mercer, on February 14, 2020).

Goodyear’s discography includes his Nutcracker arrangement as well as his Piano Sonata and Callaloo, Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, a Ravel program, American works (including both of Gershwin’s Rhapsodies), concertos by Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, and, most recently, For Glenn Gould, which recreates Gould’s 1955 U.S. debut program.

Goodyear wrote his Piano Quartet for the Kingston Chamber Music Festival in Rhode Island, where it was premiered by the Clarosa Piano Quartet on July 27, 2016. The composer writes: “The compact, one-movement work is divided into four sections without breaks. The first section is relentless in its drive, the strings at first accompanying the piano’s dissonant, syncopated theme before exploding in its own energy. The second is calmer, a dance in ternary form and hypnotic in its 5/8 rhythm. The next section is slow, lyrical, and sombre, the tension building with chromatic harmony and finally relaxing in the key of D major. The finale is a toccata consisting of a medley of themes from the preceding sections. The quartet closes with all the instruments quoting the theme of the first section.”

Program note by Robert Markow

Rachmaninoff

Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19

Born at Oneg (an estate near Novgorod), April 1, 1873
Died in Beverly Hills, March 28, 1943

Rachmaninoff contributed little to the chamber music repertoire, but his Cello Sonata remains one of most important of its kind, and frequently turns up on cello recitals. Like those of Beethoven, which were the first of their kind by an important composer, Rachmaninoff’s is the first major cello sonata by a Russian composer to remain in the standard repertoire.

This sonata was written in the summer of 1901, immediately after the Second Piano Concerto. The concerto was the work that broke the long spell of artistic paralysis and profound melancholia brought on by the utter failure of the composer’s First Symphony. The optimism, self-assurance and exuberance that mark this concerto are found in the Cello Sonata as well. At 35 minutes, it is one of the most expansive and broadly conceived sonatas ever written for the instrument, almost symphonic in its scope and richly textured writing. It was dedicated to the composer’s friend, the cellist Anatoly Brandukov, who gave the premiere in Moscow on December 2, 1901 with Rachmaninoff at the piano.

Rachmaninoff claimed that the work was “not for cello with piano accompaniment, but for two instruments in equal balance.” Nevertheless, the dense piano writing at times threatens to overwhelm the cello. As a single indication of the measure of importance the piano assumes in this work, it is only necessary to point out that the first movement’s development section focuses entirely on the piano, with the cello clearly in a subordinate role, and the cadenza leading into the recapitulation is for piano.

The sonata opens with a dark-hued slow introduction built mainly from a two-note melodic cell. The allegro section is ushered in with a long-breathed, yearning theme for the cello. The piano introduces the second theme, in D major, this one more relaxed and songful than the first. The importance of the slow introduction’s two-note cell is heard throughout the development section, where it is played almost constantly by one or both of the instruments.

The second movement is laid out in the standard Scherzo and Trio format (ABA-C-ABA). The two instruments share the Scherzo’s rhythmically urgent and restless opening theme in C minor, but it is the cello that claims the impassioned second theme as well as that of the central Trio section. This is idiomatic cello writing at its best – lyrical, deeply soulful, soaring melodies written in the instrument’s most sonorous range.

The sonata’s finest movement is undoubtedly its Andante, a seamless arc of lyrical outpouring, midnight poetry and glowing rapture. The quintessential Rachmaninoff is heard in this musical dialogue, which rises twice to an intense climax and then subsides to close in quiet repose.

The high-spirited Finale features one of Rachmaninoff’s most inspired melodies. Its second theme, announced by the cello, fairly exudes lyric warmth, sensuous beauty and nobility of purpose.

Program note by Robert Markow

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