Some musical lessons in balance and sensitivity
Indefatigable French pianist François-Frédéric Guy is apparently in the midst of a years-long survey at La Maison Française of all of Beethoven's music for piano and strings. Last season he went through the complete piano sonatas, on Thursday and Friday of last week he offered the complete works for cello and piano with cellist Marc Coppey, next season a cycle of violin sonatas is promised, and finally the piano trios the season after that. As Guy showed in Friday's performance, he is well-equipped for such a marathon.
Guy's ear for balances was truly exemplary; playing on a nine-foot Steinway with the lid fully raised, Guy allowed us to hear Coppey's every note, a feat that has never before been accomplished in my experience. Guy weighted his chords with extraordinary sensitivity, but never gave the impression of pussy-footing. Fortes were powerful, but in a framework of equality.
Thus emancipated, Coppey was able to draw an extremely wide palette of colors from his lovely Gofriller cello. While his basic sound lacked the richness and warmth of some other artists, particularly in his upper register, his bow arm produced an impressive array of articulations and dynamics, tickling the ear. His one persistent shortcoming was neglect of phrase endings. Many times a last note would come out clipped or dry, as though Coppey had already mentally moved on.
The artists had clearly worked out their interpretations tightly together, and delivered often insightful readings. The "Bei Männern" Variations sounded like Schumann, with portentous pauses between variations and much soulful rubato. The music can take this approach, but I was glad that they were more straightforward in the sonatas that followed. The delivery of the Fugue in the Sonata in D was an object lesson (from both artists) in the art of pacing and voicing.
Battey is a freelance writer.