Today’s Noontime Concerts™ recital at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral saw the return of bassoonist Friedrich Edelmann and cellist Rebecca Rust, joined by pianist Dimitriy Cogan. They call themselves the San Francisco Munich Trio, since Edelmann used to live in Munich as principal bassoonist with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, while both Rust and Cogan are from the Bay Area. However, the program was one of duets in all three possible combinations.
Edelmann led things off, performing a short suite by Alexander Tansman for bassoon and piano. The title of the program was Classical Concert of Toulouse-Lautrec’s Paris; but, since Tansman was born in 1897, it is unlikely that his family had moved to Paris before Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec died in 1901, let alone that Tansman would have been composing by that year. The suite was actually composed in 1960, and it is more evocative of some of the jaunty modernism that followed the Second World War than of the raunchy café scene in Paris in the second half of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, Tansman clearly understood that brevity is the soul of wit; and there was more than enough wit to go around in the four short sections of his suite.
Cogan was then replaced by Rust for the Allegretto movement of a “Little Duet” for bassoon and cello in C minor by Georges Bizet. Bizet composed this in 1874, near the end of his short life; and this music was much more firmly situated in that Toulouse-Lautrec context. Once again the composition was brief with just the right amount of wit to match.
The remainder of the program then involved duet work for cello and piano. This began with an arrangement of the Ária (second) movement from the second of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras compositions, known as “O Canto da Nossa Terra” (the song of our land). This was composed for the lush sonorities of a very full orchestra; and presumably Villa-Lobos (himself a cellist) prepared the arrangement performed by Rust and Cogan, which served remarkably well to capture the spirit of the original (even if that spirit had nothing to do with Toulouse-Lautrec, let alone Paris). They then performed the Gavotte-Scherzo movement from Villa-Lobos’ Pequena suite, a livelier selection to complement the more introspective rhetoric that had preceded.
The remainder of the program was devoted to the Opus 65 cello sonata in G minor by Frédéric Chopin (who, for the record, died before Toulouse-Lautrec was born). I have previously written that Chopin was always most comfortable when working with short pieces. Both of his piano concertos were completed before he turned twenty in 1830, and they both feel as if they were composed out of some obligation to establish his credentials with traditional forms. My personal opinion is that they appear regularly on symphony programs because they are the only way to draw audiences to a symphony concert with the prospect of listening to Chopin.
The cello sonata was written much later in Chopin’s life, between 1845 and 1846. It was written for and dedicated to the French cellist Auguste-Joseph Franchomme. My guess is that Franchomme was working by the same logic as today’s symphony orchestras: having Chopin on the program draws audiences. Unfortunately, Chopin was no better at working with the large formal structures of this sonata than he was in his two piano concertos, and no amount of lyric melodies from the cello and pianistic embellishments from the accompaniment can overcome this difficulty. Rust and Cogan put forth a noble effort to account for this score, but it remains one of those pieces notorious for feeling far longer than it actually is.