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CHAMBER REVIEW
Absolute Music / Sunday, March 8, 2009
Norma Brown, Piano
Joe Edelberg, Violin
Carol Menke, Soprano
Kati Kyme, Viola
Thalia Moore, Cello
Ken Miller, Bass

Soprano Carol Menke

SUNSHINE IN MUSIC

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 8, 2009

After a week of rain, a “mostly Schubert” concert on March 8 in Santa Rosa’s Friedman Center was a welcome blue-sky tonic. As the Russian virtuoso Anton Rubinstein once said, “Ah, Schubert, sunshine in music.”

Produced by Absolute Music, the concert honored founders Alfred and Susanne Batzdorff on their 65th wedding anniversary, and the 150 attending came to applaud the ever-young couple and sample some of the Viennese composer’s best works for small ensemble.

The short Sonatina in D for Piano and Violin, D. 384, began the program with the proper Schubertian lilt. Violinist Joseph Edelberg combined with the rhythmic certainty of pianist Norma Brown to shape the lovely themes. Though the piece was shaky in the first movement, all was secure in the fetching Andante. Edelberg never tries to project the big line, content to let his chaste sound make subtle musical points. The piece turns dramatic in the concluding Allegro vivace, and the musicians made the many tempo variations effective and colorful.

Soprano Carol Menke joined Brown in three Schubert songs, along with four from Vaughn Williams (with Edelberg), to conclude the first half. Menke is the sine qua non of Sonoma County singers, always dependably delivering the musical goods with faultless diction, piquant phrasing and tonal opulence. In Schubert’s “Der Neugierige,” she exhibited faultless control of pianissimos, and in his “Die Gebusche,” she followed the many modulations with yearning, floating high-register notes.

The Vaughn Williams songs, to poems by A.E. Housman, were mostly short and beguiling. “We’ll to the Woods No More” felt like the famous “Lark Ascending” for violin and orchestra, and Edelberg proved a deft, dead-on pitch partner. The darker “In the Morning, in the Morning” and the lively “Good-Bye” were objects lessons in restrained and masterful singing.

Following an intermission where all kinds of food and drink (for purchase) were consumed, Menke returned for a final song, Schubert’s “Die Forelle,” whose melody is used in the fourth movement of the “Trout” Quintet, Op. 114, which closed the concert. Each stanza of the song had a different texture, the final two lines settling in a convincing way the plight of the angler contesting the wary fish.

In the opening Allegro of the quintet, bassist Ken Miller used the high stage’s resonance to project a larger-than-usual low sound. The approach adjusted quickly as pianist Brown brought the balances into order, allowing the treble to sound warm and letting the playful nature of the music shine through. Schubert never wrote a happier work. The Andante and Scherzo were well played, not note perfect, but stylistically assured. Swooping ritards were not part of the performance, and the phrasing eschewed large variations. Violinist Edelberg led the pastoral but at times wild finale, trading voice leading with violist Kati Kyme. The big false cadence in this Allegro Giusto leads back to what some may find a banal theme, but what wonders Schubert weaves into it! The players seemed to give it a Hungarian twist, with the piano runs sparkling and pushing to a forceful conclusion.

No encores were offered, but the audience was more than sated with such melodic richness and proficient virtuosity from singer and players alike.