Review: ‘The Viennese Classics’ by the National Chamber Ensemble

By Ross Heath

Of the National Chamber Ensemble’s roster of exceptional musicians, three artists, Leonid Sushansky (violin and artistic director), Sean Neidlinger (cello), and Carlos Cesar Rodriguez (piano), filled the concert hall at the Gunston Arts Center on March 23 with the performance of three of the finest three-movement exemplars from the Classical period.

L-R: Leonid Sushansky (violin), Carlos Cesar Rodriguez (piano) and Sean Neidlinger (cello) of the National Chamber Ensemble perform 'The Viennese Classics.' Photo by Angela S. Anderson.
L-R: Leonid Sushansky (violin), Carlos Cesar Rodriguez (piano) and Sean Neidlinger (cello) of the National Chamber Ensemble perform ‘The Viennese Classics.’ Photo by Angela S. Anderson.

The opening work, Haydn’s Piano Trio No. 39 in G Major “Gypsy,” is perhaps the most well known. It is nicknamed the “Gypsy” because of the Rondo last movement’s “Hungarian” style. Melodically, the trio moves back and forth between cello and piano with the violin playing along, while having moments of grabbing the melody from the piano. The ensemble presented the pre-Beethoven soft-to-loud sections with an appropriate level of subtlety. We entered into the second movement with raw and exciting mellowness as if from a picnic on a gorgeous day. The vivacious third movement stirred up smile-inducing images of a dancing gypsy’s brightly colored dress and concluded with a sweeping accelerando which elicited bravos from the audience.

Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano no. 32 in B flat Major K. 454 was written for Italian virtuosa Regina Strinasacchi from Mantua, who came to Vienna to perform the work with Mozart for a special concert for Emperor Joseph II. Mozart never having jotted on paper the piano part performed from memory caused quite a stir. The sonata is one of the finest examples of Mozart’s operatic style, and Mozart gave equal importance to the piano and violin. Throughout the sonata, we were astonished by the wizardry of violinist Sushansky, who is able to add much light expression and sparkle to the quasi-vocal lines. The duo beautifully displayed quick transitions from melodic lines to moments of whimsy. The second movement was an operatic duet between violin and piano with a great conversational quality, which was a pleasure to hear and see. This reached a happy pitch in the third movement, achieved through the heartfelt expression of pianist Rodriguez and the bouncing strokes of Sushansky, which evoked Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.”

Cellist Neidlinger mentioned that the program neatly, through occasional dissonance, shows a foretaste of the Romantic music to come. How exciting it was to hear it exemplified in Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op. 70 “Ghost.” The trio was so named by the composer Czerny because the second movement reminded of Hamlet’s Ghost in Shakespeare. The Piano Trio begins with a super galloping theme and moves into gentle tentative tip-toes. The famous second movement for which the trio gets its name was undeniably eerie-sounding with hushed tremolos in the piano and long arching sustained lines in the strings which displayed great bow control. By the third movement, we heard the twinkling from the piano again, so unexpected and graceful, and Neidlinger showing off again with his thrilling cello playing as the three virtuoso musicians raced to the dramatic conclusion.

The sturdy, reliable, and talented National Chamber Ensemble performs next on May 4, where contemporary composers are on the program.

Running Time: Two hours, including one intermission.

The Viennese Classics, Concert 4 in the National Chamber Ensemble’s 2018-2019 season, performed March 23, 2019, at Gunston Arts Center Theater One, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA. For information on upcoming National Chamber Ensemble performances, go online.

About the author: Ross Heath, a chamber music enthusiast, is a network engineer for Northrop Grumman and the founding artistic director of Arcturus Theater Company [arcturustheater.org], where he has directed works by John Cage, August Strindberg, Samuel Beckett, Lisa Loomer, and others.