In the second installment of Oswego State’s chamber concert series, Ke-nékt, cellist Elinor Frey took to the stage of Sheldon Hall Ballroom on Wednesday with faculty member and pianist Rob Auler. In the hour-long concert, the two held the crowd spellbound with a diverse program and a constant stream of virtuosity.
“It’s really diverse,” said Frey after the show. “I really wanted to play the Saint-Saëns, and then since I play so much baroque I wanted to do [a lot] of that, because it shows off what I do best.” The composers featured were Antonio Vivaldi, Benjamin Britten, Frédéric Chopin, and Camille Saint-Saëns.
As with all Ke-nékt concerts, the artists took the time before the concert to do a talk, which they discussed the program and the guest artist, which provided the audience with some tidbits that in the words of Frey, “you won’t find in a bio.”
“My first career choice was archaeology,” said Frey, who looked stunning in thin-strapped black heels and a bare-backed burgundy crushed velvet dress. “I always wanted to put a shovel in the ground and find some gold jewelry.”
She decided instead to pursue the cello, an instrument she began to play when she was eight, after an inspiring “identifying moment” at a concert when she was five. She attributes her desire to research the history of cello as the same desire that made her want to pursue archaeology.
The pre-concert talk ended in an unusual fashion. First, the duo announced a change in the program, moving the Chopin piece to the third number and the Saint-Saëns to the final number, saying that Saint-Saëns was “so rich.” This was also the first time either of the artists had played the piece. Second, a member of the audience was asked to be Auler’s page-turner for the performance. That person, Andrew Kyle, was at least somewhat prepared.
“It’s happened before,” said Kyle, a junior music major. Kyle is a pianist under the tutelage of Auler and the two have been working together for years. Kyle said that he wasn’t terribly nervous, but that being a page-turner for a concert pianist is harder than it looks.
The concert opened with the duo playing Sonata in B-flat, RV 46 by Antonio Vivaldi, a baroque composer renowned for his violin concertos. The piano part was composed in part by Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola, who composed the right hand piano lines based on a notation technique common in the baroque era called figured bass. The four-movement sonata was smooth and lyrical throughout, although it flashed some spots that Frey called “quirky” at the pre-concert talk. In the fourth movement, Frey began to open up, and was jumping the four strings of the cello with grace and power. The audience was amazed to see such a slight woman draw so much sound from an instrument that is the size of her torso.
The second number, Suite No. 2 for Solo Cello, Op. 80 by Benjamin Britten, which left Frey on stage alone. The audience was treated to a suite that Frey described as “the least heard of the Britten’s cello suites,” and difficult. However hard she claimed it was, she made it look easy, as each movement seemed to explore a different technique of the cello.
The first movement set the tone for the rest of the movements, showing the massive range of the piece and its tendency to jump and skip melodically.
The second movement began with a series of eerie, separated notes that Frey accompanied with a dreamy look at the ceiling. This movement employed the use of the harmonic, which is a method of playing the cello in which the performer, instead of pressing the string all the way down on the string, simply rests a finger on a specific part. When played, the note is much higher and airier.
The third movement was the most aggressive, constantly pushing forward and implying dark chords and sounds. This piece featured a way to play called “double stop,” in which the performer plays two notes with two different strings.
The fourth movement was truly the highlight of the night, as it showed the unique talent Frey had to offer. The movement, which was written with a “two-against-three” feel, required the ability to not only play pizzicato, the technique for plucking the string instead of drawing with a bow, but to play pizzicato while the performer plays another note with the bow. Frey looked like she executed a masterfully choreographed mix of dance and music.
The final movement continued and expanded on many of the themes of the previous movements, which employs long and high slides on the top string of the cello that created an eerie effect.
The concert ended with Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor (Op. Post): Lento by Chopin and Sonata No. 1 in C Minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 32 by Saint-Saën, both of which Auler accompanied Frey.
The Chopin piece was dark and brooding, but lyrical and smooth. It ended with a warm high note from Frey that raised a few eyebrows. The Saint-Saëns was as rich as Frey claimed, as the three movements featured constantly changing textures and a lot of interplay between the two musicians.