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Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
CHAMBER REVIEW

Fauré Quartett at Mill Valley March 24 (A. Wasserman Photo)

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, performed by the Fauré Quartett from Germany in Mill Valley Chamber Music Society’s season closer at the Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church.

The Fauré (Dirk Mommertz, piano; Erika Geldsetzer, violin; Sascha Frömbling, viola; and cellist Konstantin Heidrich) presented penetrating readings of works by Mahler, Fauré and Brahms (plus a tantalizing quasi orchestral encore). They opened with Mahler’s one-movement Quartettsatz in A Major, composed in 1876 when he was sixteen. It is elegiac and passionate, and this was a particularly nuanced reading that despite the repetition of its motifs and themes, was never boring. Mahler apparently didn’t think much of it, and after his death it was discovered under a stack of papers by his widow Alma. He may have intended it to be the first movement of a larger work but that never happened, and no other chamber ensemble work by Mahler survives. The quartet was not performed publicly until 1964.

Beginning with a brief spare, thoughtful piano introduction, the strings joined and soon the piano introduced repeating triad chords in the right hand as the left played a somber bass melody; this would be repeated further on. There were many mood and tempi changes as the main theme was explored. The music moved through turbulent emotions, and seemed at times like an obsessive meditation on life and death, with passion and tenderness. Ms. Geldsetzer’s playing showed an astonishing range, summoning multiple shades and many voices. Mr. Frömbling’s viola sang brilliantly, and Mr. Mommertz’s virtuosic pianism was at turns sweet and thunderous. Throughout the work Mr. Heidrich’s cello grounded the interpretation with a golden sonority. The audience was silent when it ended, waiting for the musicians’ bows and hands to be lowered, then breaking into appreciative applause. It was hard at that moment to imagine a more nuanced or heartrending reading of the piece.

Fauré was celebrated during his lifetime but little appreciated outside of his native France, and international recognition came later. The Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 15, was first performed in 1879, though the last movement was revised in 1883. It was written straddling highs and lows in his life. The first movement, (allegro motto moderato) is like a happy conversation among the four instruments. The melody wanders blithely, sometimes with a distinct Ravel-like air, and ends gently. The allegro vivo scherzo has exciting pizzicato sections while the piano line leaps and gambols and takes thematic precedent. There are short spurts of close harmony in the strings while the piano leads a merry chase. The third movement adagio reflected the sorrow of Fauré’s broken engagement, with sighs and wistful recollections of happiness now lost. Toward the end, the piano phrases wandered up and down in this landscape of loss, then finally found strength and resolve, and the movement ended philosophically. The last movement (allegro molto) was taken at a brisk tempo, with dazzling scale passages by Mr. Mommertz. The piece resolved finally in the key of C Major. At the conclusion the audience, which nearly filled the hall, stood in excited ovation.

The very first performance in 1861 of Brahms’ G Minor Piano Quartet, Op. 25, featured pianist Clara Schumann. It is a profound work with a royal feeling, simultaneously complex and transparent. The composer Arnold Schoenberg orchestrated the piece in 1937, and his impulse to do so is understandable, since it is orchestral in nature, with thrilling blends that evoke a much larger ensemble. In the allegro first movement the piano playing was incandescent, the string sound translucent, and all were woven tightly together with insistent pulse and beautiful unison playing. The intermezzo/allegro, ma non troppo/trio/Animato often changes moods and tempi and at times hangs on the edge of dissonance. A sense of urgency prevailed as drama built and climaxed in animated piano arpeggios.

The third movement, andante con moto, was almost painful in its longing. The Fauré’s musicians seemed to live each moment with utmost feeling, their bodies and Ms. Geldsetzer’s face expressing each emotion. The section turned military, with a march and the evocation of drums, out of which the violin seemed to sing of life continuing, its rich voice rising above the other performers. The rondo fourth movement was played as an earthy gypsy celebration, Hungarian in sound, with much rubato and a vehement and joyful ensemble. The strings played unison pizzicatos while the piano part featured a cascade of notes. There was a section of waltz, perhaps bringing to mind Vienna where Brahms was living. The players seemed to be having fun with this exciting masterpiece.

When the last notes died away, the audience again rose as one to give an enthusiastic standing ovation that moved the musicians to sit again to play Mr. Mommertz’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev” from his piano work Pictures at an Exhibition. It was a grand finale encore.