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Chamber
PERFORMER AS PROMOTER: CLARA SCHUMANN AND MUSICAL SALONS CLOSE VOM FESTIVAL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, July 28, 2019
The July 28 closing performance of the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival could have been subtitled "Friends", as it was devoted to works by both Clara and Robert Schumann, and those of their friends and protégés Brahms and virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim, with whom Clara toured extensively...
Chamber
ROMANTIC CHAMBER WORKS HIGHLIGHT VOM FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 27, 2019
Now in its 5th season the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival presented July 27 a concert titled “My Brilliant Sister,” featuring Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s compositions for combinations of voice, fortepiano and strings. Fanny and her brother Felix were close, and Felix occasionally published ...
Symphony
ROMANTIC DREAMS AT THE MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kayleen Asbo
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Romanticism, contrary to many popular perceptions, wasn’t simply about diving into the habitat of the heart. Romanticism began as a literary movement that elevated the power of nature as a transcendent force and sought with keen nostalgia to rediscover the wisdom of the past. The Romantics in both l...
Chamber
CHAUSSON CONCERTO SHINES IN A VISIONARY'S SALON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Ernest Chausson’s four-movement Concerto in D Major for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet (1891) is neither concerto nor sonata nor symphony, but it somehow manages to be all three, especially when played with fire and conviction by an accomplished soloist. Those incendiary and emotional elements w...
Chamber
EUROPEAN SALON MUSIC CAPTIVATES AT VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Two stunning programs of 19th and 20th century chamber music were presented on July 21 and 28 as part of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival at the Hanna Center in Sonoma. Festival founders and directors pianist Eric Zivian and cellist Tanya Tompkins were both on hand to contribute brilliantly at ...
Chamber
ECLECTIC INSTRUMENTAL COMBINATIONS IN VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 20, 2019
A Lovely summer afternoon in Sonoma Valley, an excellent small concert hall, enthusiastic audience, exciting musicians and creative programming with interesting story lines. All these were combined July 20 at a Valley of the Moon Festival concert titled “An Italian in Paris.” This is the fifth seaso...
Opera
'ELIXIR' A WELCOME TONIC IN SPRIGHTLY ANNUAL MMF OPERA
by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 19, 2019
In most of the Mendocino Music Festival’s 33 seasons a single evening is given over to a staged opera, with bare bones sets, lighting, costumes, minimal cast and short length. No Wagner or Verdi here, no multiple acts and complicated production demands. Light and frothy are the usual, and so it wa...
Recital
PUNGENT WALTZES AND VIRTUOSITY IN LADEUR'S SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
San Francisco based pianist Jeffrey LaDeur has become one of the most sought-after North Bay virtuosi, and cemented that reputation July 17 in a short but eclectic recital in Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Village Chamber Music Series. Before 140 in the Village’s auditorium Mr. LaDeur began with Schubert...
Choral and Vocal
NOBLE BRAHMS REQUIEM PERFORMANCE CLOSES SONOMA BACH'S SEASON
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, June 01, 2019
Sonoma Bach, conducted by Robert Worth, presented a truly grand finale to their 2018-19 "Light Out of Darkness" season in two sold out Schroeder Hall performances June 1 and 2. The program "A Human Requiem" was received rapturously with a well-deserved standing ovation for the main work, Brahms' ...
Chamber
THREE SONG CYCLES HIGHLIGHT VIBRANT SLV RECITAL
by Pamela Hicks-Gailey
Wednesday, May 08, 2019
An ambitious recital of vocal and piano music was presented May 8 at Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Village by mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich and pianist Jeffrey LaDeur. The duo engaged the enthusiastic audience with scholarly friendliness and artistry in performances of Beethoven's short cycle of six song...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Friday, February 09, 2018
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet. Walter Seyfarth, clarinet; Marion Reinhardt, bassoon; Michael Hasel, flute; Andreas Wittman, oboe; Fergus McWilliam, horn; Steven Hough, piano

Pianist Steven Hough

BERLIN WIND QUINTET'S NOVEL PROGRAM SCORES IN WEILL CONCERT

by nicholas xenelis
Friday, February 09, 2018

Driving into the Green Music Center parking lot Feb. 10 I knew there was something unusual taking place since the lot was nearly full. Was another event going on this same night? A large crowd in Weill Hall isn’t expected for chamber music, in this case with the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet.

SSU Orchestra Director Alex Kahn led a pre-concert discussion and the players with their German accents and broken English made a strong connection with the audience. Oboist Andreas Wittmann and flutist Michael Hasel made brief remarks, and clarinetist Walter Seyfarth spoke of the Philharmonic’s history. Pianist Stephan Hough, composer of a Trio for Bassoon (originally for contra bassoon, and played by Marion Reinhard), Piccolo and Piano, described his interest to write something unusual and challenging. A wind player in the audience asked about choice of reeds for different climates, and Mr. Whitman replied that he used Legere plastic reeds.

After welcoming applause Mr. Hough’s Trio for Piccolo, Contra Bassoon, and Piano was played, in a version that used flute and bassoon. The change made what might be an odd but intriguing combination seem more normal. Mr. Hasel performed on a wooden flute that had a beautiful silvery sound, and the opening of the first movement was like an elixir that had been poured over the audience. The sounds of lyric overlapping phrases and textures were clear, vibrant, and live in the best Weill Hall acoustics. The second movement began with crashing crushed chords and rhythmic scherzo figures flourishing and bantered about on the flute while the bassoon’s line danced in contrast with echoes of composer John Williams-like figures or even Hindemith’s music. It was ear catching and grabbing.

The andante third movement introduced the piano part while the bassoon and flute slowly disappeared into a sudden silence, the piano phrases becoming luscious chords. This was a striking moment for the piece, and a magical performance.

The Hough work led into Mozart’s Piano E Flat Quintet, K. 452, a model for Beethoven and other composers. One aspect of this piece’s compositional history is that it inspired Beethoven and other composers that utilized this instrumental combination. From the outset the ensemble was tight, soft, balanced and warm. Articulations were completely matched and added a distinct Berlin Philharmonic character. The timbre of the oboe is distinctly European and mellow as well as reedy sounding. It blended well with the other woodwinds.

As the allegro developed the clarinet and oboe set out the principal themes, and the horn and bassoon lines would occasionally part from their accompanying figures to join in a melodic fragment. The playing was crisp and light, and not percussively staccato. The lyrical phrasing was eloquently Mozartian.
Playing is the slow second movement was restrained and dominated by the clarinet and oboe sharing in the feast of E Flat melodies, a preferred key for woodwinds in Mozart’s compositions. The horn and bassoon played the harmonic background beautifully and added their lyric style. Many captivating sounds were the triple pianissimos which give a velvety and decidedly wider contrast to the music, often difficult for a woodwind quintet to achieve.

In the finale there were many unique score markings and contrasts that are not normally heard in performances of this Quintet, suggesting a unique edition and editor. Fortissimo chords were heard so seldom that effective contrasts were amplified. Mr. Hough was virtuosic in his flying scales and arpeggios.

Six Ligeti bagatelles followed intermission. What a fantastic piece! It was played beautifully with aplomb and artfulness as well as technical mastery. Each instrument was featured at various times. Playing each section without pause, the ensemble started out rhythmically dancing in bright articulations with humor and occasional dissonances. It was fun to hear and observe the players intermingling their parts in perfect harmony. The second movement’s playing gave way to fluid lines and turns of expression with the French horn using his hand to effectively alter the tone color and timbre. The interval of minor seconds rubbing in contrast with a sudden unison brought sonic surprise. After developing the melodic material and displaying the distress implied in melodies, the piece ends on a major chord as if to relax player and audience alike.

The third movement showcased hornist Fergus McWilliam’s sound and control accompanied by a seven-note staccato rhythm in the other instruments, much like music of Bartok. The finale uses a five-beat pattern in a mode reminiscent of Bartok and folk music of the Hungarian areas of Europe. Here was a fine display of the musicianship of Berlin winds. They beautifully interpreted and performed this challenging but rewarding music. Parts of the last two movements were wild and the music danced across the stage from instrument to instrument, and was played with abandon. There was a possibility of fatigue as tuning suffered during chords that were forte and also in awkward registers for the instruments. There was much applause.

The performance of Poulenc’s Sextet for Piano and Woodwind Quintet in three movements was arguably the best ensemble and thematic blending of the concert. Poulenc completed the Quintet in 1932 and clearly displayed his love of the woodwinds. He has written of his passion for woodwinds “since he began composing.” He also wrote sonatas for a flute, clarinet, and oboe. Mr. Whittmann had trouble hearing his pitch, which perhaps was because of the A-440 pitch tuning in America, as opposed to the A-443 tuning of Berlin Philharmonic. Weill Hall pianos are tuned to A-441.

One can hear American Jazz and Stravinsky influences in style as well as rhythmic challenges in this work. What impressed me again with this ensemble was the degree of dynamic contrast, especially with interwoven phrasing and projection from Mr. Hough.

The allegro vivace opening conjures images of a bustling city with mechanical and harsh sounds, as playing in the extreme registers of all instruments made for an intense sonic experience. Mr. Ferguson performed beautiful French horn lines in extreme registers. In the second movement the oboe became the charming voice of thematic entry, and the playing in the final movement returned to the crazy character of city life filled with angst, as well as tender moments that altered the dissonances.

Instrumental technical shortcomings made much of the playing less than flawless, but the performance was surely enjoyable, and to hear a full concert of provocative music from the Berlin Quintet with Mr. Hough was unique in Weill. Considering the Hall’s size and acoustics, the Berlin musicians provided ample sonic splendor and consummate interpretations.