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CHAMBER REVIEW

Maile, Zivian, Tomkins and Lin Jan. 18 in Occidental

WEIGHTY ROMANTICISM IN REDWOOD ARTS COUNCIL CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pungent Romantic music dominated the Redwood Arts Council chamber music concert Jan. 18 in the Occidental Community Center, with an aesthetic pianistic introduction of two Bach Preludes and Fugues.

Pianist Eric Zivian brought heavy legato and a full tone to the Bach pieces in E-flat Minor (Book I, BWV 853) and C-Sharp Minor (Book II, BWV 872), taking a judicious tempo in both works and providing careful articulation and repose in the C-Sharp’s fugue. It was not Bach for those used to a pointillist sound, but led well into the thick textures of Schumann and Brahms.

Joined by cellist Tanya Tomkins and violinist Joseph Maile, Mr. Zivian led a passionate reading of Schumann’s D Minor Trio, Op. 63. A clue to the approach was a sweeping ritard by Mr. Zivian, leading to the second theme in the long and tumultuous first movement. The acoustics of the Community Center are full and direct, emphasizing the richness of the cello line, but also Mr. Maile’s thin tone and difficulties with taking notes cleanly, especially in fast ascending scale passages.

This anguished dynamism carried forward into a vigorous Scherzo, the violin and piano trading phrases, and then a slow section with haunting recitatives, sensitively played. The finale was appropriately joyous with ample instrumental virtuosity. The ensemble was not always a smooth blend, as the parched violin line and the muted sonority from the sub-professional house piano could be jarring.

Keyboard sonority was a needed component of the night’s final work, the muscular Brahms Piano Quartet in A, Op. 26. Violist Pei-Ling Lin joined the mix. The playing in the opening Allegro had fervor and underscored the composer’s mastery of counterpoint and majestic thematic material. The serene melodies of the second movement, shortly to characterize Brahms’ first piano concerto in 1867, were played lovingly and with a deep foundation of Ms. Tomkins’ rich cello line and patrician phrasing.

A fine climax was built in the dramatic finale with Mr. Zivian enjoying playing off-beat accents and small dissonances (for Brahms in 1862) in chords of seconds and thirds. The pianist's potent playing occasionally covered his colleagues, but it was of little consequence in the headlong drive to a thrilling ending.

A full house gave the four musicians a standing ovation, but no encore was offered.