Grabois and Shih present Classical Mystery Tour

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Adam Grabois and Gloria Shih gave a whirlwind tour of 150 years of classical music in the form of a cello and piano recital on Saturday night. The well-chosen program traveled from early Beethoven to the serial works of Anton Webern, with some stops in between.

A very early and obscure set of variations by Beethoven, on a theme from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (1801), opened the program. The work was short, playful and generally classical in style. The next piece was from near the end of Beethoven’s life, his Sonata No. 5 (1815), which showed a radical different side of Beethoven in its harmonic daring and thematic ambiguity, and Grabois and Shih performed it accordingly.

In a clever contrast, the next pieces were early and late works of Anton Webern. The first work, Two Pieces (1899), written when Webern was 15, was utterly tonal and Brahmsian. The Drei Kleine Stücke (1914) that followed were in Webern’s atonal style, terse and enigmatic. “Can you believe the same guy wrote these two pieces?” Grabois said when introducing the works. The next piece stood alone, Debussy’s late Sonata (1915). It is a distinctly Eastern-sounding piece, with tinges of Balinese gamelan in its shimmering textures, which Shih played with terrific clarity and nuance.

The final work was the second sonata (1949) by the spectacularly unknown Nikolai Miaskovsky, a contemporary and compatriot of Prokofiev. It is an extremely conservative piece that could easily have been written in the 19th century. Grabois described it as “home-cooked.” Though not exactly an overlooked masterwork, it is an engaging and sometimes exciting piece that deserves better than absolute obscurity.

Graboi played with a strong, steady and slightly grainy tone, with a well-judged and expressive vibrato. Shih’s played with fine dynamic control and precision, and the balance was good. Grabois is a 1984 graduate of Swarthmore and currently plays professionally, based in New York. Shih is a native of Taiwan and is currently working on a doctorate in piano performance from Stony Brook University.

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