Old Friends and New Journeys at Salon Piano Series

Cellist Amit Peled and pianist Daniel del Pino fire up Farley’s House of Pianos

 

For more than five years, the showroom at Farley’s House of Pianos has been the place to hear some of the world’s great artists, up close and personal. As it turns out, what eventually became the Salon Piano Series is celebrating its fifth season as a non-profit arts organization, expanding its series to six events, and endeavoring to make each event even more special (if possible!).

Tim and Renee Farley early on had the idea that the concerts didn’t always have to feature a solo pianist, and a few seasons ago we were treated to the Israeli-American cellist, Amit Peled (pictured above, courtesy of SPS). At that time he was in the midst of a long tour in which he re-created a Pablo Casals recital program, c. 1914—on Casals’s own cello! To say that the event was memorable is just the simplest of understatements; what we learned last Friday, in the first of two performances by Peled and Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino, is that the instrument was doubly uncomfortable…

Peled is 6’5” tall; not surprisingly he played basketball in his youth in Israel, and eventually learned that even the standard sized cello was not ideal to his mature frame. But when the widow of Pablo Casals, the master who did more in the 20th century to raise the stature of the cello than anyone, offers his instrument to you, well, who are you to pass up that opportunity? It was supposed to be a one-year loan, but Peled played it from 2012-2018. In 2017 he received an unexpected email, and to make a long, if fascinating story a little shorter, learned of an 1865 cello made by Villaun, that was a copy of a rare Stradivarius cello. In fact, it was larger enough that the German family who acquired it for their store (when it was new!) had never been able to sell it. Even at half its supposed market value, Peled had to “have two mortgages,” but also for the first time in a distinguished career, owns his own cello.

His program at the SPS event with del Pino revealed that he is putting it to good use indeed.

Peled told the usual large audience (with at least as large a one expected on Saturday) that he and del Pino met about 25 years ago at the Yale School of Music, and the program represented a journey of a musical friendship. Early in their friendship they apparently played together quite a lot, but now that Peled has been based at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore for a number of years and del Pino mostly plays in Europe, their opportunities to collaborate are limited.

The opening work was the Sonata No. 11 in G Minor of Henry Eccles. Peled informed the listeners that one can find the work arranged for every string instrument, even being used in Book 8 of the famous Suzuki method for violin. Many musicians have said that simpler music is the hardest, and the 1720 opus relies much more on singing melodic lines than virtuosity. But sing they did, and as the work unfolded, it was hard to imagine it on any other string instrument, except perhaps viola.

Both players had ample opportunities to unleash the power (del Pino was playing on a 127-year old piano, expertly restored of course by the Farleys) of their instruments in the second of Beethoven’s cello sonatas (Op. 5, No. 2). At once we were reminded of the fun in hearing early Beethoven—this work dates from 1796, well before the composer’s deafness set in, when he was the darling of Viennese aristocracy and audiences in general. But for all their brilliant byplay in the big moments, it was the softer and separated sequences that marked the depth of the players’ collaboration.

The second half was given to works relatively new to the two men. First was a real rarity, the “Sonata in the Old Spanish Style” (1925) of Gaspar Cassado (1897-1966). The music did possess a real stateliness, while an extended pizzicato sequence in the finale gave further evidence of the heft of Peled’s new instrument.

The closing work was the early Sonata in F Major (1883) of Richard Strauss, a work that proves that he could exhibit excesses in his youthful works as well as his late operas. But if we’re going to go on this late Romantic ride, Peled and del Pino are the ones to take us, with their over the top bravura approach to harmonies and gestures that point to the quickly approaching tone poems and early operas that would make Strauss both famous and wealthy.

But no matter how great the performance at SPS, they almost always have saved the best for last: a delectable reception of wine and nibbles that give one the chance to chat casually with the artists, the Farleys, and make new friends among that night’s listeners. Your next chance is November 17 (just one performance, per the usual) with pianist Maxim Lando. If you don’t know the name, well he’s only 16…but you should read about what he’s done already. Kudos again to the Farleys for booking a young artist who soon will find himself hard pressed to make time for an event in Madison…

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