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Chamber
SCHUBERT "MIT SCHLAG" AT VOM FESTIVAL MORNING CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 29, 2018
The spirit of 19th century Vienna was present July 29 on the final day of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival. The Festival in the second half of July glittered with innovative programming and the new, old sound of original instruments played by musicians who love music with historic instruments. ...
Chamber
PASSIONATE BRAHMS-SCHOENBERG MUSIC CLOSES VOM FESTIVAL SUMMER
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 29, 2018
An extraordinary program of chamber music by Brahms and Schoenberg attracted a capacity crowd to the Valley of the Moon Music Festival’s final concert July 29th in Sonoma’s Hanna Center. It opened with a richly expressive reading by Festival Laureate violinist Rachell Wong and pianist Jeffrey LaDeur...
Chamber
PRAGUE AND VIENNA PALACE GEMS HIGHLIGHT VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 28, 2018
The remarkable Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival presented a concert called “Kinsky Palace” July 28 on their final Festival weekend in Sonoma’s Hanna Center. Two well-known treasures and one lesser gem were programmed. Starting the afternoon offerings were violinist Monica Huggett and Fest...
Chamber
INNOVATIVE CHAMBER WORKS IN HANNA CENTER CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, July 22, 2018
The Valley of the Moon Music Festival presented a July 22 concert featuring three giants: Haydn, Schubert and Schumann, composers who altered music of their time with creative innovations and artistic vision. In the fourth season the Festival’s theme this year is “Vienna in Transition”, and VOM Fes...
Chamber
VIENNA INSPIRATION FOR VOM FESTIVAL PROGRAM AT HANNA CENTER
by Nicki Bell
Saturday, July 21, 2018
A music-loving audience filled Sonoma’s Hanna Center Auditorium July 21 to begin a record weekend of three concerts, produced by the Valley of the Moon Music Festival. The Festival’s theme this summer is “Venice in Transition – From the Enlightenment to the Dawn of Modernism” Prior to Saturday’s m...
Chamber
VANHAL QUARTET AT VOM FESTIVAL DISCOVERY AT HANNA CENTER
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 15, 2018
A near-capacity crowd of 220 filled the Sonoma Hanna Boys Center Auditorium July 15 for the opening concert of the fourth Valley of the Moon Music Festival. This Festival presents gems of the Classical and early Romantic periods performed on instruments of the composer’s era, which presents a few ch...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
Chamber
TRIO NAVARRO'S POPULAR FARE IN SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Long time Classical Sonoma readers may recall many Trio Navarro concert reviews that lauded their virtuosity and interest in rarely played repertoire. The April 8 concert in Schroeder Hall before 85 chamber music fans featured sterling performances but had a mostly conservative menu of popular trio...
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.