Mosaic Delivers a Big Win
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several Mosaic Chamber Players concerts in recent years. Over the last five years, they’ve been working their way through the cycle of all Beethoven’s string sonatas. This was the final recital in that series, with a program of one sonata for piano and cello, and two for piano and violin. Pianist Jess Salek performed all three pieces, with three different Mosaic string players: violinists Laura Burns and Wes Luke, and cellist Kyle Price.
The concert was Saturday, October 7, 2017 in the beautiful and historic Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s truly lovely to attend a performance of art music, in a space that is itself a work of art. On this night, we were joined by a nice sized crowd of 50-60 fellow music lovers.
Something that is immediately apparent about the Mosaic Chamber Players is that they emphasize communication in their playing. As an audience member, it’s always fun to watch how performers interact, and in chamber music, that interaction is critical to the performance of the piece. At a Mosaic recital, audience members can enjoy seeing the subtle physical cues passing between the players, and even a smile flitting across their faces at a musical joke. More importantly, even an audience member with their eyes closed would feel and hear the deep level of communication in every aspect of the performance. All dynamics, articulation, and phrasing have been worked out together and perfectly matched in performance. It’s delightful to witness.
The first piece on the all-Beethoven program was the Sonata for Piano and Violin in A Major, Op 12/2, played by Laura Burns and Jess Salek. The first movement was full of interplay between violin and piano, as the performers traded melodic lines in graceful conversation. The trills and grace notes of the early Beethoven were like wistful sighs, and both Burns and Salek moved easily and with warmth between the brighter and darker passages of the piece. In the second movement, they gave the melodic lines beautiful direction and urgency, but shied away from overly dramatic playing in this early work. The third movement gave both performers a chance to shine as it switched between flashy arpeggios, hymn style chords, and light and sweet melodic lines.
The second piece was the Sonata for Piano and Cello in D Major, Op. 102/2, played by Kyle Price and Jess Salek. As soon as the piece began, it was evident that we had certainly moved from early Beethoven, to late. In the first movement we experienced dramatic mood shifts from urgent quick passages, to urgent lyric passages, often with roiling bass notes in the left hand of the piano, with only the rarest glimpses of any of the sighs or whimsy we heard in the Op. 12. The cello and piano deftly traded more complicated lines, now dealing in drama, turmoil, and uncertainty. The second movement began as a haunting hymn/dirge. The cello entered with a lovely dark sound, as Price added vibrato with intention, when he wanted to change color. Price and Salek moved through chord progressions like one player, with seemingly effortless beauty. The third movement felt like upward motion, with the cello and piano in a fugue alternating between light and intense sections. The end of the piece arrived with a controlled tumble toward the final cadence.
During the short intermission, the audience was invited to get a glass of wine or soft drinks to enjoy during the second half of the program. There is definitely a vibe of friendship and camaraderie at the Mosaic Chamber Players’ recitals, and between students and family members of the performers, there were a handful of children in attendance.
The second half of the performance was the sonata for Piano and Violin in G Major, Op. 96, in four movements, played by Wes Luke and Jess Salek. As soon as the first movement began with those famous trills, we knew we were in for a treat. Luke plays with a strong, sparkling tone that was a perfect match for this piece. Salek nimbly alternated between dark, thunderous sounds in the left hand, chime-like chords as clear as bells, and jolly, bouncy passages. In the second movement, Luke kept a seamless intensity in his sound and vibrato, supported by the brooding piano, leading the audience through the piece with aching beauty. Luke and Salek handled the many contrasts of the third and fourth movements, and traded virtuosic solos, always with great humor and a sense of fun.
Throughout with this group, the communication is so strong that neither player ever overshadows the other, but when it’s time to take over a melodic line, they do so with authority. They truly invite the audience on an emotional journey with them. Check out their next performance, Saturday February 3, 2018 at 7pm, featuring works of Copland, Barber, Corigliano, and Zwilich. Find them on Facebook @mosaicchamberplayers.