Monday Sonatas is rapidly becoming one of the most popular series of the Bowdoin International Music Festival. The first concert, July 5 at Studzinski Recital Hall, was sold out.

There’s a reason for that. World-renowned Festival artists and instructors-in-residence get to play their favorite works, and the results are almost universally appealing, even when the sonatas themselves leave something to be desired, such as the seldom-heard Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65, by Chopin.

Even the best efforts of cellist Steven Doane, and pianist Barry Snyder, who made the sonata sound better than it is, could not transform it into anything other than a historical curiosity — one of the very few pieces that Chopin wrote for any instrument other than the piano.

Chopin simply did not know what to do with the cello, except to make it sing flowing lines. But even those melodies are not among his best efforts. Every once in a while, the piano begins to break into a glorious passage, like one of the piano sonatas, but then the composer thinks better of it, afraid to obscure the cello line, already long lost.

Still, everyone should hear the work at least once. It has its moments, some of the best of which indicate the pianist’s envy of a huge, sustained bass note.

The program opened with the New England premiere of “Dream Catcher,” written for the soloist, violinist Maria Schleuning, by noted American composer Augusta Read Thomas. Its principal characteristic was purity in the highest registers, and emphatic pizzicati, in a style that might be called “tonal modernist.”

It was held together by the shape-changing of a recognizable little motif, but all in all it sounded like high-class doodling. It was certainly not “white hot and alive,” as Thomas is quoted as saying in the program notes.

The high point of the evening, by far, was a performance of the Prokofiev Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Major, Op. 94, by violinist Ilya Kaler and pianist Boris Slutsky. It was pure Prokofiev, at his fantastic best — driving, sardonic, quirky, melodic and even wistful, but always full of energy.

Slutsky and Kaler made the most of it, in an exciting dialog that had no second fiddles.

Monday Sonatas continues through Aug. 2. For further information and tickets call 207-725-3895.


Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician from Pownal. His Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram.