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CHAMBER REVIEW
Valley of the Moon Music Festival / Sunday, July 30, 2017
Cynthia Freivogal and Monica Huggett, violin; Tanya Tomkins, cello; Eric Zivian, piano. Apprentices TBA

Violinist Cynthia Freivogal

PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017

In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons.

Clara Schumann’s three bucolic Op. 22 Romances for Violin were beautifully played by Cynthia Freivogal and pianist Jennifer Lee, with the highlight the opening heart-on-sleeve andante. This was a romantic interpretation laced with subtle ritards and a beguiling bantamweight ending. The somber following allegretto was succeeded by the most Robert Schumannesque of the set, with surging romanticism. Ms. Freivogal played from score and clearly has a penchant for the ten-minute work composed in 1842.

Schumann’s third Quartet in A Major, Op. 41, No. 3, closed the first half in a compelling performance by four of the Festival’s apprentices – violinists Maria Romero and Rachell Wong, violist Andrew Gonzalez and cellist Ana Kim. Mr. Kim and Mr. Gonzalez pushed the first movement’s “question and answer” refrains and opening ascending phrase (known to pianists from Beethoven’s E Flat “Hunt” Piano Sonata). This was in sharp contrast to the insistent drama of the assai agitato and the songful and understated playing of the adagio. Here Ms. Romero’s colorful playing began most of the phrases, and the ensemble was always clear. The last chord of the adagio was played without string vibrato.

In the finale the music from 1842 had a sprightly and lively character, played charmingly with just one hiccup at an entrance, and the many thematic repetitions had pleasant differences. The conclusion had energy and flair. The audience in the Hanna Boys Center auditorium gave robust applause.

Arguably the most popular piano trio before the public. Mendelssohn’s D Minor occupied the entire second half and the reading was a mixed bag. Perhaps the lack of a conclusive whole was due to that popularity, as the performances in one’s mind usually have the sound of a modern concert grand and steel stringed cellos and violins.

Pianist Eric Zivian, the preeminent fortepianist in Northern California, dominated much of the performance. Mr. Zivian’s scales (in a scale-heavy work) were fast and tended to take the musical leadership away from cellist Tanya Tomkins and violinist Monica Huggett. Piano action key dip is at about 1/4" (3/8" in modern pianos) in Mr. Zivian’s reconstructed Mendelssohn-era 1841 grand, and he made the most of thematic voice leading and rubatos. His forte chords sounded well, especially when juxtaposed to the gut strings of the cello and violin. The opening movement had many beguiling moments, and at some Ms. Tomkins raised her right foot way off the floor for perhaps quiet emphasis. Her playing throughout was chaste but seldom muscular.

The famous andante in B-Flat major was charmingly played and Ms. Huggett’s solo after the opening theme in the piano part was elegant. But for much of the work she could be seen playing but not heard. Her proficient playing was frequently underpowered, and it’s hard to envision this musician playing standard virtuoso violin works (e.g., Respighi Sonata, Sibelius Concerto) in a large hall. That said, I presume such compositions are of little artistic interest to her, and her musical preferences are solidly rooted in Baroque music. The interplay of voices in the brisk scherzo was lucid, and the ensemble of the racehorse finale was exciting. Here again the piano part, even lacking a modern instrument’s sonority, was felicitous (glossy arpeggios and legato octaves) but often covered Ms. Tomkins cello part.

One should never equate the sound of these period instruments with an acquired taste. This performance with these splendid musicians had many auspicious moments, and proved again that a vintage work like the Mendelssohn D Minor can absorb many valid and compelling conceptions.

This review was written from hearing and seeing the performance video, kindly provided by Festival Public Relations Director John Hill.