On Sunday, Mar. 1, Assistant Professor of Music Horacio Contreras and George and Marjorie Olsen Chandler Professor of Music Catherine Kautsky performed several selections from the works of Beethoven, Desenne, Debussy and Astor Piazzolla. Contreras, who is widely recognized as one of the best Venezuelan cellists of his generation, played alongside Kautsky, who is the Lawrence chair of keyboard and has been praised by the New York Times as “a pianist who can play Mozart and Schubert as though their sentiments and habits of speech coincided exactly with hers … The music spoke directly to the listener, with neither obfuscation nor pretense.” Together, they performed some of the most well-renowned classical pieces for cello and piano, as well as some more contemporary Latin American works.
Contreras and Kautsky opened the performance with the “Andante” and “Adagio” movements of Beethoven’s “Sonata in C major.” The resoundingly mellow, rich sounds of the cello moved in conversation with the piano, ascending in alternation from each other during the Andante. Towards the end of the movement, the cello escalated in intensity and pace, culminating in the dark and urgent opening tones of the “Adagio” that later faded into something sweet as the piano re-entered. Contreras and Kautsky moved together in tandem throughout the dynamic movement of the sonata before allowing the last notes to ring out over the audience and quickly changing pace with Desenne.
Next on the program was Contreras’ performance of Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne’s “Jaguar Songs for Cello Solo,” pieces melding elements of Venezuelan and European music and paying homage to Contreras’ personal and musical history. The piece featured much more unconventional and intense bowing techniques, frequently moving off the string in the “Gitane,” including dramatic glissandos in the “Tombeau pour l’Amazonie,” and choppy pizzicato transitioning to the last vibrato notes of the “Jaguar” movement.
Following the intermission, Kautsky rejoined Contreras to perform the “Prologue,” “Sérénade,” and “Finale” of Debussy’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano” and Argentine composer Piazzolla’s “Le Grand Tango.” Sunday’s performance was hardly Kautsky’s first foray into Debussy’s work; in 2014, she released a recording of his “Preludes” to high critical praise. Her work on the sonata renders this success unsurprising; the challenging crescendo and fall of the piano in the “Prologue” feels effortless to the audience. The marching feel of the opening of the “Sérénade” was curated by her methodical piano accompanying Contreras’ recurring plucking that eventually ebbed and flowed between longer, smooth strokes and ascending circular riffs. The piece was tranquilly resolved by the “Finale” movement before finally moving on to the tango. Piazzolla’s 1982 piece “Le Grand Tango” blends traditional tango rhythms with contemporary jazz syncopation, creating an urgent, pressing movement full of both curt and legato bow strokes, dancing, circular movement and closely controlled yet resounding notes.
While Kautsky and Contreras have not recorded any of the pieces from Sunday’s performance, Catherine Kautsky has two recorded albums available for streaming on Spotify, and several of Horacio Contreras’ recordings are available on his website.