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Recital
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport. Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
Symphony
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater. Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
Recital
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
Chamber
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
Symphony
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
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.