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CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW

Composer Ron McFarland with pianists (left) Ava Soifer and Eliane Lust

MCFARLAND'S MUSIC FEATURED IN LAVISH MARIN CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 13, 2011

Even the most ardent classical music lover would be hard pressed to name a composer of stature that actually resides in the North Bay. Janis and Brian Wilson might be mentioned, and of course there are effervescent Charles Sepos and Healdsburg resident Charles Shere. And John Adams has a home north of Jenner. But for productivity spanning four decades, and manifold performances, only Marin composer Ron McFarland meets every qualification.

Friends of the Tiburon composer paid him homage Feb. 13 in a house concert featuring only Mr. McFarland’s music. A student of Schoenberg for composition and Leginska for piano, McFarland’s music is complicated structurally but uses conventional forms and a harmonic language that is frequently dense but almost always accessible.

Marin Symphony principal cellist Jan Volkert, launching the evening with a world premiere, gave a lithe and perky performance with pianist Ava Soifer of the Fantasy Variations for Cello and Piano. The work is graceful on the ear, distinctly different than the 12 Preludes for Piano played by San Francisco virtuoso Eliane Lust. Ms. Lust, a crusader for McFarland’s music, recently recorded the entire set of 24 Preludes, titled Les Hommages. Here the references, in blocks of two, were to Poulenc, Satie, Prokofiev, Gershwin, Liszt and Ravel. Getting all the sound possible from the small house instrument, Ms. Lust underscored the composer’s rhythmic vitality and sporadic playfulness at phrase endings. A more idiomatic performance can’t be imagined and the audience of 33 responded lustily.

Cal State East Bay faculty violinist Philip Santos continued the Valentine-themed tribute with powerful reading of the Violin Sonata, ably partnered by Ms. Soifer. This was perhaps the gnarliest work of the concert, much of the fiddle’s part placed in the high register and demanding a clean spiccato bow technique. Ms. Soifer made the most of the felicitous piano part, seldom chordal, and the balances were good in the small room. The violinist played the strident harmonies with strong accents and accurate intonation.

The final two works, a Serenade for Piano Trio and five songs for soprano and piano trio, were of recent vintage and displayed a more relaxed compositional outlook. The Serenade, from 2009, is a short work of 23 pages packed with melodic invention and mastery of the chamber music idiom. Everything was in its place – Mr. Santos’ elegant short trills in the andante cantabile, Ms. Volker’s piquant three-note pizzicatos in the concluding Allegro scherzando, and Ms. Soifer’s secure octave playing throughout. This fresh-minted piece needs the attention of our prominent resident trios – Trio Navarro, San Francisco Piano Trio and the Tilden Trio.

Soprano Sara Ganz joined the Trio for “Songs from The Book of Love,” preceded by a long instrumental prelude. Particularly fetching were “It Rains, Beloved” and “I See You Coming Toward Me,” taking advantage of Ms. Ganz’ nimble and magnetic vocal projection, identifying completely with these eclectic and polished songs. She was definitely the soloist, her voice frequently soaring above the ensemble with potent clarity.

Following words of thanks by the composer, concert host Bruce Wolfe served a terrific dinner featuring cuisine of India, with most of the dishes prepared in his kitchen.