Bruce Hodges attends the Kaplan Penthouse, Lincoln Center, New York on 27 July 2019 for the performance
After provocatively reinventing Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, again with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra under Andrew Manze, Pekka Kuusisto and Knut Erik Sundquist adjourned to the glamorous Kaplan Penthouse across the street for a hilarious and moving late-night concert. (If they ever decide to stop playing, a comedy show might be on the cards.)
For their concept, the violinist and bassist lined up Bach, European folk tunes and a soupçon of Tallis and others – all arranged for the two instruments, and prefaced by a deadpan introduction: ‘We have a set of extremely sad music, a set of joyful music – and a set of music that will make you want to go home.’ But the humour would have fallen flat if the results that followed weren’t so adroitly managed.
For the ‘sad’ part, the two Menuets from Bach’s Third Partita (BWV1006) surrounded a traditional Finnish minuet, often with Kuusisto bowing in delicately pale colours, with Sundquist in sober pizzicato counterpoint. After more amusing banter, the ‘joyful’ segment began with Memories from Ischgl, inspired by an arrangement for three clarinets. And after the Largo from Bach’s C minor Violin and Harpsichord Sonata came the evening’s apex, En smuk Aftensang, a plaintive Norwegian melody enhanced by Kuusisto’s pristine whistling.
For the final set (and from the applause, no one wanted to go home) four folk tunes (including a wistful tango by Zbigniew Korepta) prefaced the last work, a touching arrangement of the Aria that opens Bach’s Goldberg Variations. As Kuusisto turned to gaze at the Manhattan skyline through the floor-to-ceiling windows, his elaborate ornamentation contrasted with Sundquist’s gentle pulses.