Schubert Club’s first recital in the new Ordway Concert Hall may point toward the future of classical music. Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto played four of the J.S. Bach violin sonatas, but he entrusted the continuo accompaniment to Irish accordionist Dermot Dunne. Sandwiched in between were sequences of traditional Scandinavian folk tunes.
Kuusisto is clearly a risk taker and in this case, he was eminently successful. This collaboration represented an inventive reimagining of the classical sound and offered the opportunity to hear this music afresh. The freewheeling program offered a novel way to structure a recital, thinking outside the usual box.
This unusual program drew an energetic audience with a significant number of newcomers. They were unfamiliar with the tradition of reserving applause for the end of each sonata, feeling free to applaud after each movement and adding energy to the occasion. Unfortunately, by the final sonata, they had been shamed into losing that spontaneity.
Kuusisto himself provided much of the energy of the event. He had the demeanor of a little pixie, with an impish smile and an irreverent attitude. He was clearly having a rollicking good time and his mood was contagious.
This would have been little more than a quirky experiment if Kuusisto hadn’t had the technique to pull off this difficult music. He offered a straightforward, unfussy, unromantic interpretation that occasionally came across as overly cold and academic. But he is a true virtuoso, playing with expressive flair and control.
The accordion was an initial distraction, with its unique, jarring sound. But by the end of the first sonata, I had grown accustomed to it and was able to appreciate the way the two instruments blended. Dunne also played with flawless technique, especially the bass runs.
Kuusisto demonstrated mastery as a classical violinist and as a fiddler, a different skill set. He treated the folk music, which he explained was in some cases even older than Bach, with the same respect he showed the sonatas. His sounds were sometimes less than elegant, but the ear-catching thrills kept the audience enthralled.
William Randall Beard is a Minneapolis writer