Like chocolate and peanut butter, cello and piano are two great tastes that perfectly complement together. Composers have thought so for centuries, and this Saturday at the Soldotna Christ Lutheran Church, cellist John Lutterman and pianist Tim Smith — both University of Alaska Anchorage music professors — will regale an audience with the works of composers including Ludwig Von Beethoven, Franz Liszt, and Cesar Franck.
The concert, which starts at 7:30 p.m. and costs $20, will feature 19th century works, starting with Beethoven’s “5th Cello Sonata,” published in 1870. Lutterman, a researcher into historic performance styles, often plays on instruments built near the time of the piece he’s playing. Though the cello he’ll play Saturday is modern, the bow he draws across its strings will be one used in Beethoven’s time.
“It’s a different kind of wood, ironwood as opposed to pernambuco, which is a little bit stiffer, a little more dense,” Lutterman said. “The biggest difference is there’s a bit less hair on it … and there’s more give in the hair at the frog, which allows a slightly different kind of articulation. The hair sort of wraps around the string more than with a modern bow. There’s a little more difference with the sound at the tip. The modern bow is designed to even out the sound across the bow as much as possible. Older bows sort of celebrated the difference in different parts of the bow.”
His techniques are also historically informed.
“I use a lot less continuous vibrato than a lot of other cellists do these days,” Lutterman said. “Still in the 19th century, vibrato was considered more of an ornament, not a basic continuous part of the sound, so I treat it that way. That might be a more noticeable difference in the way I approach these things, especially in the Beethoven. The later romantic pieces certainly call for more vibrato, and I enjoy indulging in that as well.”
Lutterman said the program is built around the mature styles of each composer, featuring pieces written at the ends of their careers. One will be “Song without Words,” a piece by his mother, Jean Lutterman, a classically trained pianist and elementary music teacher who also wrote many songs with words — educational songs about American history and political satire performed by groups including the Capitol Steps. John Lutterman said “Song Without Words,” which he described as lyric and tuneful, was also a late-in-life work. Jean Lutterman wrote it for her 50th wedding anniversary.
Another of Smith and Lutterman’s pieces exists in many forms: Cesar Franck’s “Sonata in A minor” was originally composed for piano and violin, published with a version for cello and piano, and has been transcribed for other instruments as well. Smith said he’s familiar with it in several of its forms.
“It’s a great piece from the Romantic repertoire,” Smith said. “I’ve played it with violin, I’ve played it with flute, and now I’m going to be playing it with cello.”
“Verborgenheit” is another adaptation for cello and piano, being a short song originally written for vocals and piano by German composer Hugo Wolf. The name translates to “solitude.” Smith will also be playing one solo piano piece: “Reminiscences of Lucia di Lammermoor,” an adaptation by Liszt from an opera by Gaetano Donizetti. Smith said these pieces belong to one of his favorite eras of piano composition.
“Probably as far as the solo piano goes, that was kind of the latest and greatest era of compositions for the piano — the end of the Romantic period before things started to go different directions and the harmonic spectrum changed and we got into a lot of different varieties of music,” Smith said. “The piano at the time was very similar to the instrument we play on today — the modern Steinway. A lot of composers were experimenting with what they could do with the piano and they came up with some great ideas. Liszt was probably the best known for that.”
Smith said he’s been performing on the Kenai since the 1980s, most recently doing a show of piano duets with his wife, also a pianist. As for Lutterman, Saturday’s show will be his first on the peninsula.
“From what Tim was telling me you have an audience of music lovers there and a reasonably good piano,” he said.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.