Couple conquers Clark with musical prowess

The Duo Recital by Edward Arron on the cello and pianist Jeewon Park at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute this Sunday was a passionate and cohesive concert filled with late Classical and Romantic works. Arron, a Juilliard graduate and faculty member at NYU, is recognized internationally for his elegant musicianship, impassioned performances and creative programming. He made his New York recital debut in 2000 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has since appeared as a soloist and chamber musician throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. Korean-born Park, who also attended Juilliard as well as Yale, is rapidly garnering the attention of audiences for her dazzling technique and poetic lyricism.

Arron and Park began with Introduction and Polonaise Brillante for Piano and Cello, Opus 3 by Frederic Chopin. They performed the original, piano-heavy version, with its lyrical “Introduction” transitioning from a soft, romantic sound to a forceful piano melody, and a high-energy “Polonaise” with lively dynamic contrasts. Throughout the piece, Arron and Park collaborated (they are married, after all) through expressive body language cues and spot-on communication.

The second work on the program was Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror and Mirror) for cello and piano by Arvo Part. Part’s ability to create a modern transcendent experience with a powerful simplicity shone through in the duo’s rendition. The piece seemed to suspend notions of time, transporting the audience with its simple scalar cello line and steadily moving yet expressive piano work.

Spiegel im Spiegel immediately gave way to Two Tonadillas for Cello and Piano by Enrique Granados. Arron and Park stumbled upon the out-of-print sheet music for this work (originally written for voice and guitar) when searching through boxes given to them by a neighbor – a lively anecdote that, when shared, further connected the audience and performers. Trading melodies with a Spanish flair and transitions between the pizzicato (plucking) of the cello and hammering of the piano strings, along with superb articulation and control, served as a testament to the unity of this pair.

A Spanish influence was also present in the next work, Sonata for Cello and Piano by French composer Claude Debussy. This piece, comprised of three movements that jump from one idea or landscape to another, was one of Debussy’s last works, written at the height of the composer’s craft. “Prologue” starts with a dramatic and ornamental piano entrance that projects a sense of longing with its suspended melodies. The piano provides a steady framework, while the cello fills in the structure with its complex and free-flowing melody. A jazzy pizzicato section brings in the serenade, forming a dialogue between the instruments involving high-energy bursts and unstable chords. “Finale” has an exotic energy, perhaps transporting the audience to a more bustling setting. Although Arron’s mastery of technique was evident here, I found a few of the fast passages slightly unclear.

Arron and Park began the second half of the program with the work Dreaming for Cello and Piano by Amy Beach, a nearly life-long Massachusetts resident. This work was transcribed from a piano piece written in 1892 and served as a bridge between the romantic and more modern music on the program with its emotional clarity and cinematic sound. The piece conjured up a story line and images, fulfilling the title with its yearning, dream-like qualities.

The final installation in this stunning lineup was Sonata in D Major for Cello and Piano, Opus 58 by Felix Mendelssohn, a work written only a few years before the composer’s death yet still full of joy and energy. Though I enjoyed the collaborative quality of their playing, I felt that Park could have been more assertive in certain passages. Nonetheless, she and Arron seemed to be enjoying themselves the most in this piece. The “Allegretto scherzando” starts with a piano solo and cello pizzicato (a recurring theme of the concert, as seen in the Debussy and Granados), forming a more mischievous melody. As in the other pieces, Arron and Park showed great control and contrast with dynamics and style, especially evident with the beautiful cello trio melody opposing the rigid, medieval and pedantic dance asserted by the piano part.

The “Adagio” movement is atypical for Mendelssohn, since there are no moving undercurrent notes. As noted by Arron, the chorale in the piano contrasts with the Jewish lament in the cello, perhaps a nod to Mendelssohn’s conflict between Judaism and Christianity in his life. It was particularly impressive when Arron performed pizzicato and arco (bowed sound) simultaneously. The “Molto Allegro e vivace” was a fitting ending with its seamless transition back to a lively, tumultuous melody, only to be calmed by a serene and lilting Schubert reverie encore that highlighted the strengths of both players through gorgeous lines and countermelodies.

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