As a concert hall, Sanders Theatre comes close to being a joke. Boisterous pedestrians, revved engines, and low-flying jets are heard in profusion. All have a perverse way of intruding into the music at precisely the "wrong moments"--as if any moment would not be the wrong moment! Last night's audience even had the benefit of hearing an automobile horn anticipate the solo violin by sounding precisely the same "A" with which it was to enter a few second later.
Fortunately, the Monday night concert fare at Sanders more than compensates for its geographic and acoustical disadvantages. Last night, Cambridge concertgoers were treated to a violin-piano sonata recital by professionals Jaime and Ruth Laredo. The young husband-and-wife team presented a program that was deftly complementary to the piano recital of Leonard Shure a week earlier. Once again a work of Beethoven provided us the cornerstone, this time one from his more extroverted second period--the Sonata in A major Op. 47 ("Kreutzer"). But if Shure concentrated on the nineteenth century, the Laredos almost seemed to go out of their way to avoid it. The rest of their program consisted of Bach's Sonata No. 2 in A major and the Sonata Concertante of resident composer Leon Kirchner.
The Laredos' Bach was in the best Rosalyn Tureck tradition. Eschewing the harpsichord for the piano, Mrs. Laredo played lid up and with plenty of pedal. As a pianist myself I have nothing against treating the instrument as a full partner in chamber music rather than a subservient accompanist--in fact I welcome it. But the Laredos' Bach did have severe balance problems. Mr. Laredo very quickly demonstrated a full, rich tone and an easy command of dynamics on the violin. But he was more and more obliged to "force" in an attempt to hold his own against the superior string length and physical mass of a Steinway grand.
Having bowed to tradition in the Bach, the Laredos proceeded to perform the contemporary Sonata Concertante of Kirchner. This is a long work, full of virtuosic writing for the two instruments. Long, cadenza-like solo passages occur throughout, mostly for the violin. One of these--a broad, violin-spanning "theme" in double stops--opens the work and recurs periodically throughout the sonata's two movements, lending the work a somewhat cyclical character. There is nothing small about this piece, and the Laredos performed it with passion, intensity and brillance.
Strangely enough, they gave a more coherent performance of the Kirchner than of the much more familiar "Kreutzer" Sonata. Once again, balance was a problem. Ruth Laredo may be a woman but there is nothing mincing about her approach to the piano in general or to the "Kreutzer" in particular.
Both Laredos were religious in their execution of Beethoven's sharp dynamic contrast and Leonard-Shurine in their emphasis on structural detail. But stunning as were these effects, they seemed to be employed as things-in-themselves rather than as elements in an over-all interpretation. Too much for instance, was made of Beethoven's strategic pauses, which though pregnant with meaning can easily turn barren when pushed out of shape.
In spite of these shortcomings, the word that kept coming to mind was "exquisite." Jaime Laredo's near-flawless intonation enabled him to give the most moving rendition of the "Kreutzer's" opening double-stop solo I have ever heard. As one member of the audience said, it was a pleasure to sit back and to listen to a violinst without having to cringe. As a team the Laredos often seemed to compete with each other. But when they both agreed on a sound, the effect was breathtaking--as when Mrs. Laredo brought herself to match her husband's pianissimo. For those who heard the second movement of the "Kreutzer" last night--another of Beethoven's exquisite sets of variations--it will be quite a while before they hear anything to match it for gentleness, delicacy or just plain prettiness.