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CHAMBER REVIEW
Valley of the Moon Music Festival / Sunday, July 30, 2017
Jennifer Frautschi, violin; Liana Bérubé, viola; Jeffrey LaDeur and Eric Zivian, piano; Rachel Wong, violin; Liana Bérubé, viola; Tanya Tomkins, cello

Brahms' Quintet July 30 at the VOM Festival (J. Hill Photo)

THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER

by
Sunday, July 30, 2017

The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“

This summer Festival features chamber musicians playing period instruments of the Classical and Romantic era, and the piano used for this concert was a restored 1841 instrument originally built in Vienna by Franz Rausch. In attempting to approximate how Schumann might have heard his music the string players used gut in lieu of metal strings and bows appropriate for the 19th century music.

Pieces on the program were by Schumann, Paganini, Joachim, Liszt and Brahms, and included solo piano selections thoughtfully performed by Festival co-director Eric Zivian and Jeffrey LaDeur. The string players featured violinist Jennifer Frautschi and included violinist Rachel Wong (a 2017 Festival Apprentice), violist Liana Bérubé, and Festival co-director and cellist Tanya Tomkins. Mr. Zivian joined the group for Brahms’ Op. 34 F Minor Quintet.

Mr. Zivian opened the program with Schumann’s Valse Allemande and Paganini sections from Carnaval, Op 9. The temperamental forte-piano, which requires multiple tunings during the course of a day, yielded to Zivian’s will and served as a wonderful concert beginning. The pianist’s idiosyncratic approach to playing coaxed a warm sonority from the fortepiano in these lighter introductory pieces. It is difficult to describe how the forte-piano differs from modern instruments but the word “muted” comes to mind. Nevertheless, when necessary Mr. Zivian and later Mr. LaDeur were both able to bring out hidden capabilities of the instrument when a fierce approach was required.

Next was Ms. Frautschi’s rendering of Paganini’s lyrical Caprice, Opus 2, No 13, in B-flat Major, with Mr. Zivian at the piano. The use of gut strings provided a softer and in some ways a more pleasurable sound compared to their modern metal cousins. Ms. Frautschi’s playing is filled with emotion and supported by masterful technique as demonstrated by her facility on the fingerboard and artful bowing. Her playing was graceful throughout and brought new insight to this lesser played Caprice.

Mr. Zivian returned to perform Schumann’s Op. 10, No. 6, one of the Six Studies after Paganini Caprices. While obviously written with a tip of the hat to Paganini, the E Major piece was nevertheless very much Schumann. Here the performer was able to bring out more of the forte-piano’s character as well as demonstrate his interpretive skills and technical excellence. The audience seemed especially appreciative.

The Zivian and Frautschi duo joined again for a delightful romp through Joseph Joachim’s Romance in C Major, Op. 20. Their give and take ensemble playing was an elegant success. Ms. Frautschi then played a Paganini warhorse, the 24th Caprice from his Op. 1. She chose a judicious tempo (many virtuosos tend to play this memorable Caprice too fast). Taking the tempo down a notch allowed the artist to reveal to the audience the piece’s more subtle aspects which made her interpretation a crowd pleaser.

At a point when there might have been an intermission a rich musical offering of Liszt’s music by Mr. LaDeur wowed the audience. He started out gently with three pieces from Années de Pélerinage Première Anée (Suisse), S. 160: Au lac de Wallenstadt, Pastorale, and Au Bord d’une source (At The Spring). Here the San Francisco-based pianist revealed his lyrical artistry. His easy natural playing style was a perfect match for these sonorous compositions that were written between 1835 and 1852. One only needed to close one’s eyes to be transported into Liszt’s contemplative nature scenes in Switzerland.

Then followed Liszt’s transcription of Paganini’s 24th Caprice, the last of the Hungarian master’s set of six from 1851. It was a great contrast to Ms. Frautschi’s offering. Liszt of course commands piano pyrotechnics and Mr. LaDeur’s technical prowess was up to the challenge. His playing was secure and powerful and in listening one might have forgotten he was playing a light action, limited sonority instrument from an earlier era. That said, Mr. LaDeur did not shy from bringing a sensitive interpretation of the piece’s quieter moments.

In pre-performance remarks Mr. LaDeur alerted the audience to the fact that his final work, Schumann’s Toccata in C Major, Op. 7, was the type of piece that put any pianist brave enough to attempt it through the wringer. It can be said that as harrowing as it must be to perform the piece, this pianist’s command of his instrument was such that the artistic result was never in doubt. Mr. LaDeur’s playing was a joy to experience, and his domination of double notes and octave passagework was a fitting goodbye for Schumann as the Festival’s artistic honoree.

The concluding Brahms’s Quintet from 1865 provided a wonderful composition to end the program and the VOM Festival. Here the ensemble playing of period instruments brought the listener as close as possible to the sounds of an earlier time. There was but one brief glitch, out of the control of the musicians, when Mr. Zivian was forced to raise his arm stopping the piece dead in its tracks. It appeared that a rod running to one of the pedals of the temperamental pianoforte became disengaged. However, Mr. Zivian quickly bent down under the keyboard and remedied the pesky problem.

The group proceeded as if nothing happened, keeping their composure, and clearly were in synch with each other. Cohesive playing during the difficult and broadly lyrical slow movement was captivating, and one movement led into another seamlessly and it was sonically and visually apparent that the musicians were having a great time performing the muscular piece.

The third season of the growing Valley of the Moon Musical Festival came to a splendid close.