This past Friday, Bargemusic hosted the latest installment of their Masterworks Series, featuring the Romantic-era composers Brahms, Grieg, and Dvořák.
Located in Brooklyn Heights, the cool oasis that is Bargemusic’s floating concert hall instantly impresses. The warm tones of wood paneling are coupled with expansive windows spanning the back of the stage and offering gorgeous views of the Manhattan skyline from across the river. Though the many windows seem to present an acoustic challenge, the beginning of the Brahms Sonata in D minor for Violin and Piano would soon overtake the hall.
For the Brahms, Mark Peskanov, Artistic Director of Bargemusic, was on violin; on piano, Doris Stevenson. Peskanov led the sonata with confidence, hitting high notes on the center of the pitch with invigorating crispness. Intense vibrato drew richness from Peskanov’s lower strings, as the violinist built in strength throughout the Allegro. Upon the movement’s grand conclusion, not a single person clapped.
Synchronization problems between the piano and violin characterized the interplay of the third movement’s opening, and recurred in the Presto agitado, but Peskanov’s leadership held the two voices together. The violinist actively and effectively led the second iteration of the opening theme, along with the whole rest of the sonata. Pianist Doris Stevenson played a definitively supplementary role to the brazen soloist, but Peskanov’s willingness to play out with vigor did not go unrewarded. Aggressive double stops up and down the fingerboard showcased the fruits of Peskanov’s Julliard training. His audible breaths and passionate facial contortions heightened the dramatic experience, drawing the audience ever closer to the source of the sound—emotional immediacy is inherent in such an intimate space as the barge.
Evan Drachman took the stage next, playing Grieg’s Cello Sonata in A minor. Although Drachman projected a confident sound, especially while high in thumb position, the cellist’s deep, low-string sound was consistently overpowered by the piano, as was particularly obvious in the main theme. Still, Drachman’s advanced technique was notable. He would effortlessly raise his elbow to squarely grab low pivot notes, precisely executing the rapid string crossings.
While introducing the sonata, Drachman had declared the slow movement, the Andante molto tranquillo, a “gem.” The finally perfect balance between soloist and accompanist, along with the emotive cello sound, both confirmed Drachman’s description and affirmed the instrument’s reputation as that which is most like the human voice.
Upon returning from shoreline to concert hall, the three musicians collaborated to play Dvořák’s “Dumki” piano trio. While piano trios are often awkward due to the absence of the essential middle or alto voice—typically played by the viola—“Dumki” is perhaps singularly cohesive, and the Bargemusic trio performed it brilliantly. The cello entrance was suitably bold, the violin entrance evoked a feeling of melancholic longing, and the piano chords underscored these effects.
This group, which came together specifically for this weekend to play this trio, was surprisingly dynamic. Though Peskanov is a natural leader, Drachman engaged the violinist with refreshing alacrity, and Stevenson, whose chords bridged the transitions between sections of the piece, reinforced the tempo throughout. The piano subtly propelled movement one, suspended notes delicately in the Andante, and steadily directed the concluding accelerando, serving as the glue that made coherence among the three feel natural.
As the East River swayed the barge to the music, the sunset over the water was visible through the windows at the back of the stage. By intermission, the Manhattan skyline was aglow. Indeed, part of Bargemusic’s unique pleasure is the views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Financial District from across the water in Brooklyn. The totality of this experience was a gem.
Bargemusic’s Masterworks Series continues this Friday in Brooklyn, NY. Their website is bargemusic.org.