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Choral and Vocal
SILVER ANNIVERSARY BACH RECITAL AT INCARNATION'S EVENSONG SERVICE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 4, 2022
Symphony
JOY, LOVELY DIVINE SPARK!
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 4, 2022
Other
DINOVA PIANISM CHARMS SATED AUDIENCE AT J-B MARIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 20, 2022
Symphony
SHOSTAKOVICH 5TH A TRIUMPH FOR SSU ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 19, 2022
Choral and Vocal
SONOMA BACH'S WORLD IN SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, November 19, 2022
Recital
ASSERTIVE PIANISM IN YAKUSHEV'S OCCIDENTAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 13, 2022
Symphony
SPARKLING PONCHIELLI AND IMPOSING SCHUMAN AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 12, 2022
Chamber
CONTRASTS GALORE AT THE VIANO'S CONCERT AT THE 222
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 11, 2022
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY STOMPS ALONG TO MARSALIS VIOLIN CONCERTO
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 6, 2022
Choral and Vocal
TRAVELS WITH SEBASTIAN IN SONOMA BACH'S OPENER IN SCHROEDER
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, October 29, 2022
CHAMBER REVIEW
Valley of the Moon Music Festival / Saturday, July 23, 2022
Kyle Stegall, tenor; Audrey Vardanega and Eric Zivian, piano; Tanya Tomkins, cello; violinist TBA

Tenor Kyle Stegall

SEMINAL SCHUBERT CYCLE PERFORMANCE FROM STEGALL-ZIVIAN AT VMMF

by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, July 23, 2022

It was a much cooler concert July 23, starting the second weekend of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival's three-week run, and easier on the performers, audience and instruments alike.

The afternoon opened with Beethoven's 1801 curtain-warmer 7 Variations on "Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen" ("For those men who feel love"), the Pamina-Papageno duet from Mozart's last opera, the comic masterpiece Die Zauberflöte. Festival apprentices cellist Hana Cohon and fortepianist Audrey Vardanega gave a personal and charming reading of this little gem, both playing era-appropriate instruments. The sound is drier and crisper than modern instruments, to good acoustical advantage, particularly the fortepiano. Ms. Vardanega gave an exceptionally clean, agile and and powerful performance, the fortepiano being compositionally the more dominant partner, with the cello functioning more as a harmonizing or obbligato voice. Ms. Cohon is an appealing musician and played beautifully, notwithstanding a few intonation issues. Both women achieved playfulness, lyricism and a conversational tone in their playing.

In her remarks from the stage of the piece Ms. Cohon didn’t explain the duet's text, which could have added a fun context to the piece. What the characters Pamina and Papageno (who are just friends, not lovers) are actually singing about is the heavenly ideal of perfect love and the blessings of marriage and children. This may or may not have anything to do with Beethoven's inspiration or process in writing these short variations, but it could have. I see and hear the different aspects of love and marriage (which eluded Beethoven) in this music - major and minor modulations, fast and slow, loud and quiet passages reflecting the joys and sorrows, ups and downs, hectic or peaceful realities of the daily hard work of having and keeping a family together.

After a brief intermission and switching of instruments, tenor Kyle Stegall and fortepianist Eric Zivian took the stage and held the audience in thrall for over one hour with a deeply moving and authentic performance of Schubert's epic 20-song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin (The Beautiful Mill-Girl), from 1823. The texts of the songs are poems by Schubert's contemporary and preeminent German poet Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827). The poems are extracted from a collection entitled Gedichte aus den hinterlassenen Papieren eines reisenden Waldhornisten. The long title means poems from the papers left behind by a traveling waldhorn player. Schubert's songwriting alternates between strophic verses that work as stage setters and refrains, and through-composed dramatic narratives with huge musical-emotional contrasts and color. With a career total comprising about 900 songs, it cannot be overstated how great an influence he had over those songwriters that followed in the later 19th century: Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Strauss, Mahler.

Years ago I heard a recital of Die Schöne Müllerin with baritone the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, but in the large concert hall the performance didn't really work. So it was a thrill to hear this momentous piece performed as it was intended, in an appropriately intimate space with the fortepiano in use at the time of its writing, and by two formidable musicians.

Performing an entire cycle by memory is a feat accomplished by few, and the pressure of memorization coupled with the sheer physical and emotional stamina required to sustain such a piece without even a sip of water at any point is not a common occurrence. To be sure, they both had computer tablets their music stands, with page turning provided electronically by an off-stage assistant (yay for technology). But Mr. Stegall sang out into the house continually and only glanced at his stand a few times, and Mr. Zivian gave the distinct impression that he also was not really reading his score, which lay flat upon the instrument, and just using it as a prompt. At any rate, it came off as memorized with the happy result being complete dramatic focus and musical immersion, for both them and audience.

To set their own personal tone, they opted for a casual appearance which suited the venue and weather. They both went jacketless, and Mr. Zivian played in stocking feet. Perhaps he does this regularly but it was the first time I have noticed it. This endearing little quirk gave the performance an even more intimate “salon” feeling.

Die Schöne Müllerin is a cycle of songs about a young man who loves to take walks along a stream, and following one stream he discovers that it leads to a grist mill. He takes a job at the mill where he sees and falls instantly in love with the miller's daughter who, though polite, does not return his feelings, and is later revealed to be more interested in a local exciting and glamorous "huntsman". The stream serves as the sole confidant for the protagonist as he imagines, delights in, then obsesses over, the girl, and finally is broken by his rival and imagined betrayal.

The cycle ends with his drowning suicide in the same stream, with the stream's voice singing him a final lullaby bringing the story to its end. For the performers it is a musical and emotional arc to be spanned.

As mentioned, Mr. Stegall performed the entire cycle with no water at hand on a warm and dry afternoon. Pristine, idiomatic delivery of the sometimes very dense and fast German text was nigh unto perfect. His lyric tenor soared brightly in the big and high places, floated down to almost nothing in the quietest moments, and revealed a firm and rich lower range when the narrative required. His open and engaging interpretation was that of a gentle, sympathetic young man, dreamy and shy, lacking confidence and private about his obsession with the Miller's daughter. His delusional rhapsodies and impotent rages were carried on with only himself and the stream to hear. The sudden decision to end his life was shocking in its inevitability, and his helplessness and inability to make any other choice made it all the more heartbreaking. This was a stunning performance.

Eric Zivian is a treasure, a master, a superb artist whose playing engages and illuminates. He doesn't just provide beautiful accompaniment to the singer, but is a master storyteller as well. The use of a 19th century fortepiano did more than provide the authentic sound, it also provided a more genuinely dramatic sound. Thrilling pounding was contrasted by impossibly tiny pianissimi. There was a raw quality and character to his playing, particularly in the arpeggiated mill-wheel pattern that I loved, that one doesn't hear when played on a modern, acoustically more sonorous piano.

Altogether the beauty, pace and arc of this performance had the audience hooked at "Das Wandern" and holding its collective breath an hour later at "Gute Nacht".