Sunday , June 4 2023
Cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk
Leonard Elschenbroich and Alexei Grynyuk

Concert Preview: ‘Against the Tide: Rachmaninoff & Franck’ at the Aspect Chamber Music Series

An unusual theme motivates the next concert in the Aspect Chamber Music Series, dubbed “Against the Tide: Rachmaninoff & Franck.” What do Sergei Rachmaninoff and César Franck have in common? Unlike some great composers, they were not “ahead of their time”; instead, the opposite is the case. They both wrote music that in their own time was considered uncool and old-fashioned. Yet their work has more than stood the test of time.

On April 13, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk will perform Rachmaninoff’s Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 19 and Franck’s Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano in a transcription for cello and piano. An illustrated talk by musicologist Nicholas Chong, a specialist in the music of the late Classical and Romantic eras, will shed light on the music and its composers.

British-Ukrainian pianist Alexei Grynyuk has been hailed by Gramophone for playing “of such poise and refinement that it takes on a rapt, mystical quality,” and compared to the young Vladimir Horowitz and Grigory Sokolov.

Frankfurt-born Leonard Elschenbroich, “a musician of great technical prowess, intellectual curiosity and expressive depth” (The New York Times), has released albums focusing on Russian and French repertoire, and performs regularly in a piano trio with Grynyuk and violinist Nicola Benedetti.

Violin to Cello

I asked Elschenbroich about the Franck transcription. He told me that his duo partner Grynyuk has played the Sonata many times with violinists, but never before in this version for cello, which feels, to Elschenbroich, like a different piece, and indeed organic to his instrument.

Image credit: Oren Hope via DALL-E 2

“The cello part fits into the piano very differently,” the cellist said, “and the harmonies of the piano evolve differently within the sound spectrum of the cello. I never feel like I am playing a transcription but rather approach the piece as if it were written for cello and piano originally.”

Having authorized the cello version, Franck “knew the work had taken on a different life,” Elschenbroich noted.

I asked him about musical relationships over time, too. Knowing the Elschenbroich-Grynyuk duo had recorded the complete Beethoven cello sonatas, I wanted to know if Beethoven informed their approach to Brahms and Franck, or to Romantic repertoire in general.

Elschenbroich went even deeper into the question than I had hoped: “Alexei and I put on a festival last year with a title translating to something like ‘Did Beethoven learn from Brahms?’ Even though Brahms was born after Beethoven’s death, as interpreters, we cannot disavow the dialectic of a music history viewed from our current perspective.”

Time Travel

So it goes both ways. “There is a kind of folding-in of the passing of time,” the cellist said. “Beethoven necessarily influences our approach to Rachmaninoff, and even Rachmaninoff will have influenced our interpretation of Beethoven.”

What cross-currents through time will we hear on April 13 when these two remarkable young musicians bring us these two iconic works, by two composers who at one time seemed not of their own time?

“Against the Tide: Rachmaninoff & Franck” takes place April 13 at 7:30pm at Bohemian National Hall, 371 East 73 St. in New York City. Tickets and more information are available at the Aspect website.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases in various genres. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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