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Choral and Vocal
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Choral and Vocal
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Recital
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Symphony
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Chamber
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Symphony
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Choral and Vocal
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by Pamela Hicks Gailey
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CHAMBER REVIEW
Valley of the Moon Music Festival / Saturday, July 22, 2017
Kyle Stegall, tenor; Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin; Tanya Tomkins, cello; Jeffrey LaDeur and Eric Zivian, piano

Pianist Jeffrey LaDeur and Cellist Tanya Tomkins July 22

ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017

One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sonoma attended the first concert.

Following lengthy introductory comments by pianist Eric Zivian, the artist played Bach’s first Prelude from the Well Tempered Clavier, and followed with Chopin’s first Prelude from the Op. 28 Preludes. The Bach was played with accented first notes in each bar with rock solid tempo and no forte at the climax. Both were played on a Mozart-era instrument copy, frequently featured in concerts by Mr. Zivian along with a c. 1841 grand. The Chopin playing was lovely with a soft arpeggiated last chord.

Tenor Kyle Stegall, violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock and cellist Tanya Tomkins joined Mr. Zivian in the six-minute “Ich Traue Seiner Gnaden” from Bach’s church Cantata In Allen Meinsn Taten, BWV 97. A judicious tempo allowed Mr. Stegall to artfully swell on the first note of each stanza, over a clear meandering violin part and the ground of the cello and piano lines. He sang without score during the entire concert.

With Roy Malan Ms. Blumenstock must be the most performing of Northern California violinists, playing frequently in festivals and baroque orchestras. She closed the first half with the monumental Chaconne from Bach’s D Minor Partita, BWV 1004. Bach was surely on fire when he wrote it, but Ms. Blumenstock’s small-scaled reading from score was persuasive but not to everyone’s taste. She used minimal vibrato, usually at the end of phrases, for small emphasis and to highlight transitions. Double stops were drawn out in a smooth, non-insistent approach that didn’t have a note above mezzo forte throughout. It was the slowest interpretation from a virtuoso in recent memory. The audience of 200 applauded warmly.

Schumann, the ostensible subject of the two-week Festival, wrote Six Studies for Pedal Piano, Op. 56, in 1845 for the now extinct piano with pedals and strings under the conventional instrument. Liszt had one in Weimar, and versions of the six include various groupings of instruments. Two-piano performances are occasionally heard, and here the music was divided in two groups of three – violin, cello piano; one piano, four hands. The “Nicht zu Schnell” had an improvisatory character, and the second supported a long, laconic theme with each instrument trading voices up to two chaste piano chords. The third (andantino) had the most Schumann character in a “call and response” mode. Echt German romanticism.

Jeffrey LaDeur took the treble piano part (though Mr. Zivian kept the damper pedal) and both gave an authoritative account of the final three Etudes. The first had Mr. LaDeur carrying the themes through a surprising modulation, and the jazzy Nicht zu Schnell was a low-key dance drama. The stately slow adagio clearly exposed the fugues that mostly ended with trills. It was low voltage playing of elegance.

In a program with lots of individual pieces the viola wasn’t forgotten as Andrew Gonzales played Schumann’s Rasch from the Märchenbilder, Op. 113, with fellow Festival apprentice Jennifer Lee at the piano. Mr. Gonzalez had a big sound, ranging from a will-of-the-wisp skittish bow to delicate slides on notes for emphasis.

The viola work past without much interest, where the following two Chopin Songs from Op. 74 were some of the highlights of the afternoon. Mr. Stegall sang one of the two most famous from the set of 17 (“Moja Pieszczotka” – My Joys or My Delights) in richly hued and distinct Polish, with an extended delicious ritard before the second stanza. He made a strong case for this tenor version rather than the more popular light soprano. The following “Melodya” was sung with unique rhythmic verve and a delicate postlude from Mr. Zivian.

The duo followed with two Schumann songs, Widmung (from the Myrthen set of Op. 25) and “Im Rhein, im Heiligen Strome.” Both were sung beautifully, especially the second from arguably Schumann’s greatest work, the Op. 48 Dichterliebe. Mr. Stegall is a master of dark contrasts, and Mr. Zivian’s long postludes were alluring and everywhere lovely.

Two more works finished the long program: Liszt’s popular transcription of Schumann’s Widmung song, and the largo from Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G. Mr. LaDeur played a subtle and perfectly phrased Widmung, never forcing the fortepiano’s sound but managing to give the impression of the greater sonority of a modern concert grand. It was fastidious pianism.

Ms. Tomkins played the short cello movement with the appropriate heart-on-sleeve ardor, using a wide vibrato. Most of the five-minute piece is in the lower register, and Ms. Tomkins made the most of her instrument’s deep sound and the beguiling theme. It was the melody that presumably most of the audience had in their ears on the way home from a unique and satisfying festival experience.