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Chamber
SURPRISING IVES TRIO AND SONGS AT VMMF'S HANNA CENTER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 24, 2022
Chamber
SEMINAL SCHUBERT CYCLE PERFORMANCE FROM STEGALL-ZIVIAN AT VMMF
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, July 23, 2022
Opera
MARIN'S STRIPPED-DOWN OPERA CHARMS
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 17, 2022
Chamber
MOZART AND BRAHMS AN AUSPICIOUS COUPLE AT VMMF FESTIVAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 17, 2022
Chamber
CLARINIST HOEPRICH'S VIRTUOSITY IN VMMF OPENING CONCERT
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, July 16, 2022
Recital
AGGRESSIVE PIANISM IN MYER'S MENDO FESTIVAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 14, 2022
Opera
SONOROUS WAGNER GALA AND CAPACITY CROWD AT VALLEJO'S EMPRESS
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, July 9, 2022
Choral and Vocal
TRAVELING CHORISTERS SO CO DEBUT IN TWO BIG CANTATAS
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, June 25, 2022
Opera
VERDI'S THEATRICAL LA TRAVIATA TRIUMPHS AT CINNABAR
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, June 19, 2022
Symphony
CLOUDS AND PASSION: MARIN SYMPHONY'S STELLAR CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, June 19, 2022
CHAMBER REVIEW
Valley of the Moon Music Festival / Saturday, July 16, 2022
Tanya Tomkins and Elisabeth Reed, cello; Erich Hoeprich, clarinet; Nikki Einfeld, soprano; Elizabeth Blumenfeld and Lisa Lee, violin; Eric Zivian, piano, and a pianist TBA; a violist TBA

Clarinetist Eric Hoeprich

CLARINIST HOEPRICH'S VIRTUOSITY IN VMMF OPENING CONCERT

by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, July 16, 2022

Beautiful sounds filled the hot July 16 air at the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma Valley, as a nearly full crowd braved the late afternoon heat (95 in the shade) to enjoy some early Romantic Kammermusik and a glass of wine at an al fresco reception. The back wall doors of the hall were opened and benches arranged in shady spots to allow attendees to sit outside, of which I was one. The sound did not suffer there, and the balance was good, mingling with the gentle distant murmur of passing traffic. The scan code on the back of the single half-page program worked perfectly and provided all the performance notes.

The overarching theme of the July 16-31 Festival that includes two outdoor venues besides the Hanna Center, is Fantastic Universe: Music of the Natural World. Saturday's performance was aptly named Echo from the Ravine.

The program consisted of four somewhat related composers spanning the Classical and early Romantic periods: Haydn, Schubert, Kreutzer and Weber, plus one completely unrelated - Florence Price, the early 20th century Black composer whose works are belatedly coming to our attention. Her beautiful song "Sunset,” praising the “Golden West,” is from a recent anthology of her songs for voice and piano. The text was consistent to the theme and a welcome addition to the program, and Price's prolific output includes symphonies, concertos, songs, choral works and chamber music. Her compositional style is a hybrid of 19th century forms and 20th century harmonies, with prominent use of African-American spirituals, either as thematic material, or as arrangements. Many of her manuscripts were discovered in 2009, thus her contribution to the canon of American classical composition has only in the last decade been fully recognized.

The other lesser known composer on the program was Conradin Kreutzer, a minor producer of mostly forgotten operas in the early 19th century German Singspiel genre, the forerunner to operetta distinguished by spoken dialogue rather than sung recitative. His song for soprano, clarinet and piano "Das Mühlrad" ("The Mill Wheel") is a setting of the Eichendorff poem, and shares the theme of lost love fleshed out more completely in Schubert's cycle Die schöne Müllerin (to be heard in this hall next weekend). It is a light and charmingly melancholic breakup song, with the clarinet providing the melancholy.

The program's big pieces were well-known staples of chamber music: Haydn's Piano Trio in A-Flat, Schubert's beloved "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen" ("The Shepherd on the Rock") for Soprano, Clarinet and Piano, and the virtuosic B-Flat Major Clarinet by Von Weber. The Haydn from 1790 was a delight. Propelled by the piano, the opening Allegro found the violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock and cellist Elizabeth Reed in a lively instrumental conversation, with cute little ritards and caesuras punctuating the conversational lulls. The Adagio switched gears and featured a dramatic solo from the fortepianist Axel Trolese.

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen is one of Schubert's final works, commissioned by a soprano who wanted a showstopper piece to add to her concert repertoire. In form very much like Mozart's Exsultate, Jubilate, the Schubert from 1828 remains beloved by singers, and is popular to this day for its compactness and wow factor. Von Weber’s Singspiel operas Der Freischütz and Oberon are operatic standards, but he also was prolific in all musical genres and was a direct influence on later 19th composers including Berlioz, Meyerbeer, and Wagner. His classically rooted, yet romantically florid and expressive style works like what one could imagine Mozart's might have sounded like had he lived into the next century. Both are characterized by the Italianate style of melody plus accompaniment, partnered with the Germanic style of developing short, recognizable melodic fragments, or motifs.

The artists in this concert were uniformly outstanding. Clarinetist Eric Hoeprich was dazzling playing the Schubert and Weber, and displayed pyrotechnical virtuosity throughout. The Weber especially was a musical tour de force of Sturm und Drang, with countless exceptionally difficult passages accomplished handily. Soprano Nikki Einfeld sang the Price, Kreutzer and Schubert pieces with vocal clarity, focus and admirable technique, shown particularly in the Adagio section of the Schubert where fine breath control allowed her voice to soar quite emotionally. A little more excited abandon in the textually hopeful and joyous closing section ("The spring will come again!") would have been welcome. It was a lovely reading of the piece, as well as he singing in the Kreutzer and Price.

An exciting Festival apprentice artist already enjoying an international career, Italian pianist Axel Trolese, contributed a brilliant performance on the fortepiano for most of the program. Festival cofounder Eric Zivian gave a beautifully moody and introspective performance on the modern piano of the Price song.

The string musicians (Elizabeth Blumenstock and Lisa Lee, violin; cellists Elisabeth Reed and Tanya Tompkins, and Festival apprentice violist Seth Van Embden) were excellent, and their ensemble so sublimely second-nature, it's almost like listening to a classical jam session. They make spontaneous emotional sense out of a musical style that necessarily serves form first, and are able to make that form and phrase and melody into a wonderful conversation. The Haydn trio in particular, with no soloist and all parts equal, was full of such conversation, and proved to be the perfect opener for this year's VMMF Festival.