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CHAMBER REVIEW
Brave New Music / Saturday, July 10, 2021
Gary McLaughlin, violin; Rose McCoy, piano

Violinist Gary McLaughlin

RARELY-PLAYED SCHUMANN HIGHLIGHTS HEALDSBURG RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 10, 2021

Brave New Music sporadically produces concerts in and around Healdsburg, and July 10’s violin recital in downtown St. Paul’s Church must have been one of the first post-lockdown, post-be-extra-careful classical music concerts in Sonoma County's summer season.

New Music Founder Gary McLaughlin with his long-time pianist Rose McCoy presented a formidable program centered around two big sonatas, interlaced with four short works seemingly on the menu to give relief on a hot afternoon day, albeit with St. Paul’s good air conditioning that was thankfully pretty quiet.

Kreisler’s slow, mournful Grave march opened with Mr. McLaughlin’s rich low-end violin sonority just right, generating applause from the 35 attending.

Beethoven’s A Minor (Op. 23) Sonata followed, a three-movement work less popular than the neighboring “Spring” Sonata, but hardly less important. Playing from score as he did throughout, the violinist caught the slightly subdued drama of the opening movement and the duo’s flexibility of phrase and tiny rubatos were effective, as were the descending flourishes in both instruments.

Ms. McCoy’s clear articulation (with a tubby lower register piano, oddly placed at far left of the chancel) in the “q and a” Andante, Scherzo second movement spotlighted the fugal motifs, and the trills in both instruments added interest. There was humor in the off-beat accent playing.

The finale showed how the composer just can’t let go of an idea, and the playing reminded one of the piano sonatas of the period (“Tempest”) and had ample momentum, as did this splendid piece over a concise 23 minutes. It didn’t sound long at all.

After a short intermission Schumann’s A Minor Sonata, Op. 105, was heard and was with the concert’s highlight. With rich romantic legato throughout it was a big contrast to the Beethoven, and I cannot remember a North Bay performance of this work in many years. The duo had the surging emotion well in hand, though with a wide violin vibrato intonation could be pesky in the top range. Tempos and instrumental balances were fine. The performance in the Allegretto was a delight, but not note perfect.

What a pleasure was the concluding Lebhaft, the music making demands on both players in a menacing, rumbling race-horse tumult leading to a strong up scale, down scale ending. This ending is common in chamber music (example: Louis Vierne’s Piano Quintet) but no less exciting for it. There was loud applause.

Of the shorter works, Amy Beach’s affecting Romance was an antidote to the Schumann Sonata’s excitement, but clearly equally rich harmonically. In fact it was a little underplayed with less than full vibrato, but it was played with careful attention to detail and brimming with subtle charm.

Balcom’s popular Graceful Ghost Rag concluded the concert in a slow hothouse tempo befitting the Healdsburg heat wave, and Mr. McLaughlin’s double stops never faltered, albeit with a sharp and thin upper register tone. The fetching work featured the concert’s first pizzicato string playing and again exemplary accents in Ms. McCoy’s piano artistry. This work, in its original piano setting or in transcriptions, seldom fails to delight an audience, and at the last lugubrious notes silence ensued, and then a standing ovation.

The concert repeats at 4:30 July 18 at the Paul Mahder Gallery in downtown Healdsburg. Financial donations are requested.