Tom Strini

Beethoven Cello Sonata cycle begins

Cellist Peter Thomas and pianist Matthew Bergey's Sunday-night opener packs the Wisconsin Conservatory Recital Hall.

By - Jan 14th, 2013 01:39 am

Peter Thomas

Cellist Peter Thomas and pianist Matthew Bergey launched their Beethoven Sonata Project Sunday evening. Thomas, one of the Milwaukee Symphony’s rising young stars and something of a social media wizard, made the concert a hot ticket. They had to bring in extra chairs to accommodate a capacity crowd at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

Thomas is not only a highly skilled musician, but also one with a feel for the passion in the music. Both the early Sonata No. 2, Opus 5 No. 2, and the late Sonata No. 5, Opus 102 No. 2, begin with substantial, free-roving introductions in which unlike melodic materials link together like capricious but somehow related sequences in dreams. Thomas especially excelled at these rhapsodic passages and made their elements vivid, distinct and compelling.

The introduction to No. 2, with its processional dotted rhythms, in part has the cast of a formal French Overture. But it devolves into one of Beethoven’s “mulling it over” episodes: “Hmmm, will the music go this way or that?” Thomas and Bergey exactly got that sense of internal dialogue, which led inevitably to an allegro and the unfolding of a sonata form. But not just any sonata form; this one abounds with melodic elements. Instead of main and second themes, Beethoven gives us bouquets of themelets that somehow hang together as sonata. Again, Bergey and Thomas got the charm and personality of each melodic floret in the very long and complex opening movement.

Beethoven challenged both players with virtuoso parts, but the piano part is the busier and more technically challenging, especially in the Sonata No. 2. In the first movement, Bergey had some trouble here and there with the fleeter ornamental bits. And here and there Bergey and Thomas were ever so slightly out of sync, not in ensemble but in accent and impetus of phrase. About halfway through the first movement, they found the groove and locked in.


Matthew Bergey

The Sonata No. 5, is shorter, more volatile, more intense and still more virtuosic than the Sonata No. 2. Thomas and Bergey made of its introduction a dark night of the soul, in which explosive outcries contrast like flashes of lightning against episodes of black, private despair.

Thomas and Bergey made the opening tune of the second movement sound like a hymn fit for the Catacombs. Beethoven and the players caused it to evolve into the most beautiful lyric melody, and evolve so subtly that you can’t imagine how you got there. Here, especially, Thomas had a chance to show his big, singing line and nuanced way with dynamics. His sound, emanating from a wonderful 1810 Thomas Kennedy cello he’s thinking of buying, was utterly gorgeous.

To this point, the evening was given to Romantic flex and feelings. Beethoven changed it up in the last movement of No. 5, a fugue of amazing complexity. Thomas and Bergey gave it a brisk and steady tread and rolled over its difficulties like a tank over shrubbery. The fugue was as implacable as the preceding music was mercurial. Thomas and Bergey made it sound like a force of nature.

Upcoming Beethoven Sonata Project, both at 7 p.m. at the conservatory:

April 14: Sonata No. 1 (F Major) and Sonata No. 4 (C Major)
June 23: Sonata for Horn/Cello (F Major) and Sonata No. 3 (A Major)

At present, tickets are available at the door only.

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Finally, more cello coming the the Conservatory Monday and Tuesday, on the Frankly Music series.

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