[A      JMS]

On October 7, 2009 I attended the Janet Packer and Raymond Erickson Recital held in the Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Concert Hall at our own Queens College. I was thrilled to be going to a classical concert after being in a state of classical music withdrawal since leaving my high school’s chamber orchestra. This would also be my first time seeing the beautiful LeFrak Hall. When I first entered the hall I was immediately struck by the stunning and demanding presence of the organ. The hall itself however was intimate and noticeably designed with the acoustics as top priority. With its wood paneling and high ceilings, it offers an exceptional aesthetically pleasing experience. I decided to sit in the orchestra section to have a better view, while some chose to sit in the balcony. The audience was made up of mostly older couples with a few students scattered here and there. The atmosphere in the hall was anxious, as everyone remained completely silent while waiting for the two musicians to arrive on stage.

At exactly 12:15 the stage door swung open as Janet Packer, the violinist, and Raymond Erickson, the pianist seemed to glide to the center of the stage. The relatively small audience filled the hall with courteous applause. The two looked very professional: he wore a dark suit and she an elegant lace trimmed gown. After a quick bow Erickson took his place behind the piano and Packer remained standing, poised and ready to begin.

The first piece performed was Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No.7 in C Minor, Opus 30 No.2.  This intricate piece has 4 movements: 1. Allegro con brio, 2. Adagio cantabile, 3. Scherzo: Allegro, 4. Finale: Allegro. The names of these movements are very helpful to anyone who is knowledgeable in tempo markings. The first movement in translation means “Fast and bright with vigor and spirit,” the second is “Slow and stately in singing style,” the third is “Playful: fast and bright,” and the finale simply tells us this movement will be “Fast and bright.”

The first movement begins with a great deal of passion and grandeur accompanied with very rapid bow strokes and pounding on the piano keys. Then suddenly Packer slows down, using long, drawn out bow strokes while the piano is almost inaudible in the background. This creates an almost sorrowful emotion until Packer’s bow once again picks up speed. This variation in rhythm takes the listener up and down several times before ending in a huge crescendo with three dramatic notes. It is also interesting to note that this piece is in sonata form, meaning it is divided in three main parts: the exposition, the development, and the recapitulation. In the exposition the theme of the piece is “exposed,” in the development it is further developed, and in the recapitulation the theme is presented one more.  In typical Beethoven style, the recapitulation is scrapped in hopes of creating a grand effect, which was certainly successful in this performance.

The second movement is much slower and lyrical. The legato, smooth and connected notes, created such a contemplative, gentle tone that one could almost see the audience ease into their seats. At certain parts it seemed as if the violin and piano were holding a conversation as Packer played a few notes and Erickson responded. In contrast to the first movement, which was entirely in Arco form, meaning Packer only used her bow to create sound, the second movement implemented pizzicato, the plucking of the string.  The use of this device and the tremolo, which is the rapid repetition of a single tone, created an ethereal, translucent texture that was almost angelic. This movement is also different from the first in that it is written in ternary, or ABA’ form plus coda. The return of the A material at the end of the piece brings a sense of closure which was missing in the first movement. Notice that the final A is A prime; this is because the end of the piece has an elaborate piano passage ending in a slow, long, decrescendo accompanied by the violin.

The third movement certainly lives up to its name of playful and bright as it is noticeably, even to the untrained ear, in a major scale. This, along with staccato, disconnected, lively notes creates a cheerful tone in the music. This movement is also unique in that it employs the technique of syncopation, or the placing of an accent on a weak beat. This is clearly apparent in the piano, as the music created by Erickson’s left hand doesn’t seem to fit with the music created by his right hand. Another method, which I have never seen before, is the intended slight scratching of the bow on the string. By holding the bow rigidly in her hand and fervently striking it across the strings, Packer is able to produce a scratching sound, which creates enormous excitement and tension in the piece.

The fourth and final movement begins dramatically with a deep crescendo and remains irregular in its rhythm for the first few measures. This irregularity keeps the listener off balance until the piece returns to its standard sonata form, although this piece also lacks the repetition of the exposition. As in the second movement, Beethoven uses the conversation technique as Erikson plays a few notes and Packer responds in hushed, almost whispering notes. Contrastingly however, the “A” material at the end of this movement has a two-part coda instead of only one. This is of course used to create a more exciting and grand ending. The last coda in particular is presto, or swift, making for a blazing conclusion.

The timid applause heard when Packer and Erickson first came on stage was nowhere to be found as deafening applause radiated throughout the hall at the conclusion of Beethoven’s Sonata. The piece, which lasted about half an hours was so perfectly articulated by the two musicians that it took quite some time before the audience allowed them to continue with their performance. The pair continued on to play Irving Fine’s Sonata, and after a short intermission, Franz Shubert’s Fantasie, C Major, D. 934, Opus 159.

I feel that it is impossible to describe in words how utterly phenomenal this performance was. Janet Packer is a virtuoso in the truest sense of the word. Not only did she have three highly complex pieces entirely memorized to perfection, she was engaging and interesting to watch as well. With her expressive movement and graceful form she captivated the audience and held them under her spell for the entire recital. She even smiled and made direct eye contact with the audience during the show, never losing her tenacious concentration. Raymond Erickson also proved to be a highly skilled musician whose talent shown through in every piece. When the performance was over, and the two performers had graciously bowed and waved goodbye to their audience, not a single person could keep from singing the praises of the two artists. I would normally only suggest a classical concert to those who have a love of classical music, but I truly feel just about anyone would have enjoyed this recital. I can truthfully say I have never had the pleasure of attending a performance more spectacular than this.