By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Perhaps the only thing better than watching violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg play Beethoven's Sonata No. 7 in C minor for violin and piano, part of the Linton Concert series, was seeing her return to the stage after intermission with four more renowned musicians.
The concert, which also featured violinist Benny Kim, viola player Evan Wilson, cellist Eric Kim (principal cellist for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra) and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, took place at the First Unitarian Church in Avondale. It drew such a large crowd on Sunday that chairs were set up on stage, which meant the musicians were playing "in the round."
The musicians joked with one another - and to the audience - between pieces - giving the concert a lightheartedness - even in the wake of dramatic compositions like Beethoven's sonata, and Ernst von Dohnanyi's Quintet in C minor for piano and strings.
"It's Ludwig, he didn't like it," said Ms. McDermott after a cell phone rang between movements of the Beethoven sonata.
It was the kind of good humor you'd expect between old friends - which the five guests are - reuniting after being introduced to one another in Aspen, Colo., by Linton Concert Series Artistic Director Dick Waller many years ago.
Opener was Hayden
The concert opened with Hayden's Trio in G Major for violin, viola, and cello. Benny Kim played parts of the two-movement work with clarity and energy. He brought lightness to the first movement, Allegretto ed innocente, and playfulness to the Presto. Eric Kim provided a strong support for the other players - without dragging the tempo.
A world-renowned violinist, Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg has been featured on 60 Minutes, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and Sesame Street. A documentary about her, Speaking in Strings, earned a 2000 Academy Award nomination. Arriving on stage to thunderous applause, Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg launched into the fiery first movement of Beethoven's Sonata No. 7. Ms. McDermott was engaging to watch. Her expressive style of playing is matched only by her unique, creative phrasing.
The beauty in Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg's interpretation was in what she didn't do. Rather than waste time with showy vibrato, or slow down certain passages - she let the music speak for itself - this was Beethoven in the purest sense. She's a strong player, and her tone was consistently full and vibrant. At times she paused and made eye contact with the audience. Her gaze was as intense as the music.
In the "Adagio cantabile" Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg played with her bow on the fingerboard for a soft, delicate sound that contrasted the rest of the sonata.
The synergy between Ms. McDermott and Ms. Salerno-Sonnenburg was most apparent in the "Finale: Allegro Animato." Ms. Salerno-Sonnenburg showed great agility and tenacity in this movement - as well as good bow control as she effortlessly conquered the difficult string crossings.
The audience - many members gasped or made other faintly heard expressions between movements - rose to their feet for a long standing ovation.
The Piano Quintet in C minor, opus 1 by Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnanyi calls to mind the work of Brahms. Fluidstring passages coupled with the rhythmic textured piano part dominate the work.
Violinists played off one another well - at times laughing with one another - in the "Allegro;" and the "Adagio" featured a viola solo beautifully played by Mr. Wilson. The dynamics rose from a delicate pianissimo to the fortissimo of the "Finale: Allegro animato" - a sonorous sea of sound that made the audience pause for a moment before beginning the second standing ovation of the concert.
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