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Chamber
THREE BEETHOVEN TRIOS BEGUILE AUDIENCE IN FEB. 19 WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Chamber music concerts featuring one composer can be tricky, but the Han/Setzer/Finckel trio made a Feb. 19 Weill Hall audience of 500 hear and to a degree see the boundless creativity of Beethoven. The G Major Trio, Op. 1, No. 2, opened the afternoon’s Beethoven odyssey and one wonders why it is t...
Chamber
AUTHORITATIVE BARTOK HIGHLIGHTS TETZLAFF VIOLIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Christian Tetzlaff’s Feb. 18 violin recital rolled along with lively and fresh readings of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert when the specter of Bartok’s granitic Second Sonata intervened. The sonic shock to the audience of 250 in Weill was palpable. Composed in 1923 the 20-minute two-movement work i...
Symphony
WHAT SOUND DO STAR-CROSSED LOVERS MAKE?
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so the Santa Rosa Symphony feted the occasion by telling and retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet, a tale ever the more poignant during our era of stark divisions. The first telling was from Berlioz; the second from Prokofiev. In between was Brahms’ monu...
Chamber
GOOD OLD WINE IN GOOD OLD BOTTLES AT VOM CONCERT
by Jeff Chan
Saturday, February 11, 2017
February 11 was the first day of sunshine in Sonoma County after nine days of rain, but a nearly full house of music lovers chose to spend their afternoon in Schroeder Hall instead of being outside, soaking up the warm sun. There were two equally compelling reasons to attend this concert, which fea...
Symphony
FUNG TRIUMPHS IN SHOSTAKOVICH CONCERTO WITH VSO
by Elizabeth Warnimont
Sunday, January 29, 2017
The Vallejo Symphony Orchestra presented their season’s second concert Jan. 29 in Vallejo’s Hogan Auditorium, devoted to early Haydn, middle Shostakovich and Beethoven’s ground-breaking “Eroica” Symphony. In remarks to the audiences of nearly 400, Conductor Marc Taddei characterized Haydn’s Sympho...
Chamber
ENSEMBLE PERFECTION IN KLR TRIO'S 40TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Longevity has its place in classical music. Composers and especially conductors live a long time, and venerable piano trios can linger for years. One can recall the great Cortot-Thibaud-Casals staying on the international scene for decades, and more recently Stern-Istomin-Rose, Oistrakh-Oborin-Knu...
Symphony
SUBLIME MOZART CLARINET CONCERTO TOPS SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Sonoma County Philharmonic’s long history of featuring soloists from the neighborhood struck gold again Jan. 28 with a ravishing Mozart Clarinet Concerto performance with soloist Roy Zajac. Before an audience of 300 the Santa Rosa High School hall the A Major Concerto (K. 626) unfolded gracefully w...
Recital
RISKY SPEED IN POTENT LUO RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Each half of pianist Wei Luo’s Schroeder Hall recital Jan. 22 contained beguiling interpretations and consummate technical command of Shostakovich and Albeniz works, but each half finished with less than exalted playing. Two of Shostakovich’s Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues opened the recital, from the ...
Recital
COLORFUL SCHUBERT AND CHOPIN WARM WEILL HALL IN AX RECITAL
by Nicki Bell
Friday, January 20, 2017
On a stormy winter evening Jan. 20 a rainbow of colorful Schubert and Chopin music came from the fingers, feet and heart of pianist Emanuel Ax.  Playing at the Weill Hall for the first time, this recital was a tribute to beauty in the arts. It conveyed the value and glory of balance, lyricism and el...
Chamber
A MUSICAL ODYSSEY IN RIVITING PRESTON HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 15, 2017
A standing room audience warmly greeted pianist Carolyn Steinbuck Jan. 15 in the season’s second Ft. Bragg Center For the Arts concert in Mendocino’s plebian Preston Hall. Ms. Steinbuck, to be joined in the program’s second half by clarinetist Eric Kritz and cellist Marcia Sloane, programmed Schube...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Musicians from the Valley of the Moon Music Festival / Saturday, February 11, 2017
Eric Hoeprich, clarinet; Tanya Tomkins, cello; Eric Zivian, piano; Catherine Manson, violin and viola.

Clarinetist Eric Hoeprich

GOOD OLD WINE IN GOOD OLD BOTTLES AT VOM CONCERT

by Jeff Chan
Saturday, February 11, 2017

February 11 was the first day of sunshine in Sonoma County after nine days of rain, but a nearly full house of music lovers chose to spend their afternoon in Schroeder Hall instead of being outside, soaking up the warm sun. There were two equally compelling reasons to attend this concert, which featured clarinetist Eric Hoeprich, violin/violist Catherine Mason, cellist Tanya Tomkins and pianist Eric Zivian playing a fortepiano: to hear these musicians in a live performance, and to hear them make the case for playing classical-era chamber music on the instruments that were in use at the time the music was written.

The program’s first work was Beethoven’s C-Sharp Minor Sonata (“Moonlight”) that served as an excellent introduction to the characteristic fortepiano sound and the soundscape featured in this concert. The fortepiano differs from the modern piano in several ways: he sustaining pedal is located under the keyboard and is operated by the knee, the strings are thinner, the action is lighter, and the hammers are covered in leather. The resulting sound is lighter and doesn’t sustain as long as the sound from a modern piano.

Beethoven noted in the Sonata’s manuscript that the first movement should be played senza sordino which for a fortepiano meant without string dampers. Currently that would mean “hold the sustaining pedal down without lifting your foot throughout the first movement.” No one playing that movement on a modern piano would consider doing that of course, because the resulting sound would be muddled from start to finish. But because the fortepiano’s “sustain,” even with pedal, is so much shorter, Mr. Zivian’s playing was not muddled, but instead had a dreamy and mysterious atmosphere. The remaining movements were pedaled and articulated in the way we’re accustomed to hearing. It was riveting to hear such a familiar piece performed on the instrument for which it was composed.

The remainder of the program consisted of trios written for various combinations of clarinet, violin, viola, and fortepiano: Mozart’s E-Flat Major (K. 498) trio for clarinet, viola, and fortepiano; Beethoven’s Op. 11 trio for clarinet, cello and piano; and one of Haydn’s exquisite piano trios, H.XV.23. These pieces are normally performed now on a modern piano, a modern clarinet, and on more-tightly strung violin and viola using modern bows.

Ms. Mason and Ms. Tompkins appeared to be using instruments with lower string tensions, and the instrumental bridges and fingerboards looked to be lower than those of modern instruments, and classical-era bows with lower tension on the horsehair produced a sound that balanced well with the fortepiano. In addition, the two women used a compromise position to hold their bows, lower than the Baroque style, but not directly on the frog as in the modern style. Mr. Hoeprich played one of his many period clarinets, an instrument with only five keys and no rings, and a much shorter than modern-style reed, held on the mouthpiece with string as the ligature.

The Mozart Trio (“Kegelstatt”) was played with verve and precision, and the performer’s use of subtle improvisation and ornamentation not present in the printed music provided additional excitement. Mr. Hoeprich's sound had more depth and edge than expected from a period instrument, an improvement on the muffled tone quality of many period clarinet performers. Instrumental balance was an issue, with the clarinet at times overpowering the fortepiano and hiding Mr. Zivian’s dexterous finger work.

It’s no surprise to most listeners that the Haydn work in D Minor (H.XV.23) demonstrates inventiveness and charm. The andante molto first movement is a theme and variations and the composer takes the structure a step further and writes a movement using two themes and sets of variations, one in D Minor and the other in D Major. In the vivace finale a shifting strong beat presages the contemporary practice of a changing meter. This performance featured a wonderful sense of balance between all three instruments and a cohesive interpretation of deft elegance.

The program’s conclusion featured Beethoven’s B-Flat Major Trio that some in the audience may have heard Jan. 29 in Weill, performed by the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. In the "Gessenhauer" trio the clarinet replaced the violin, and to this reviewer the clarinet version feels more convincing, but this may be because I perform on the clarinet. As with the other pieces on this program, the playing of the 1797 work featured wonderful ensemble and instrumental communication.

Is it better to play classical era music on instruments from the period rather than modern instruments? Would Mozart have written for the modern piano if one had been available for him? Or does that even matter? We can argue these questions, but to this reviewer it’s not a matter of “better,” but a matter of “different,” and appreciating the difference. What keeps period instrument performances from being just a novelty? When they are done as well as were done in this ensemble’s Schroeder concert.