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CLASSICAL  August 2005

CLASSICAL August 2005

Subject:

"Ghost" Magic at Music@Menlo

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 9 Aug 2005 09:01:54 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (102 lines)

http://www.sfcv.org/arts_revs/musicmenlo1_8_9_05.php

   Music critics' epaulets are routinely torn off their shoulders
   if they mention "time standing still," but there are no sufficient
   euphemisms to get around the hackneyed phrase this time, so
   farewell to my ornamental cloth pad for now.

   The moment came early at the Music@Menlo Festival's third program
   on Tuesday, in Palo Alto's St. Mark's Church. It was during the
   second movement of Beethoven's Piano Trio in D Major (the "Ghost")
   when musicians and surroundings fell away and the mysterious,
   haunting music took over, as time, yes, stood still.

   Three very different musicians, seemingly not all that well
   grouped together - violinist Ian Swensen, cellist Ronald Thomas,
   and pianist Derek Han - were already getting their "ensemble
   legs" in the opening Allegro of the Op. 70, No. 1: a lyrical
   cello, a heroic piano, with the violin providing the connective
   tissue. And then the Largo, and the music played truly "allegro
   assai ed espressivo" - "very lively and expressively" and yet
   something well beyond that: fluent, flawless, inexorable, and
   in an enchanted fashion, perhaps "incantato"?

   After that breathtaking opener, there was an almost welcome rest
   provided by a mild-mannered, forgettable - and indeed virtually
   forgotten - work: Carl Maria von Weber's Grand Quintet for
   Clarinet and Strings. The 1815 work is a mid-career shot at
   chamber music, with an opening Allegro that seems to pay tribute
   to Beethoven and a closing Rondo that imitates Rossini. In-
   between, there are many pleasant notes, and virtually no music
   to sink one's teeth into.

   And yet, young festival favorite (and the Metropolitan Opera's
   new principal clarinetist) Anthony McGill did the most he could
   with the Weber, well-supported by the Miro Quartet. The ensemble,
   participating in the festival's complete cycle of Beethoven
   quartets, is from the University of Texas, Austin. Its members
   are Daniel Ching and Sandy Yamamoto (violins), John Largess
   (viola), and Joshua Gindele (cello).

   "Serious" music returned after the intermission, with Mendelssohn's
   1845 Quintet for Strings in B-flat Major, played to the hilt by
   a remarkable fivesome: violinists Swensen and Jorja Fleezanis,
   violists Cynthia Phelps and Geraldine Walther, and cellist David
   Finckel. They honored the work with the utmost dedication,
   visible-audible-palpable involvement and commitment, through the
   majestic Allegro, the graceful Andante, hitting a high(er) point
   in the Adagio, and its slow, enchanting introduction - before
   music and performance turned "heavy" briefly. The experience of
   watching and hearing Phelps and Walther playing side by side
   justifies the name and spirit of a "festival," being a truly
   festive occasion.

   In the concluding Allegro (molto vivace), Swensen became literally
   and musically airborne, leaning into the music with such force
   that he occupied his chair only now and then. What normally could
   be just distracting mannerism was more than acceptable in this
   case, the physicality of the performance being a sincere,
   unaffected part of an obvious personal-best achievement that
   propelled the music forward amazingly. Besides the audience
   acclaim, Swensen received warm acknowledgment from his colleagues,
   all five beaming in the elation that follows an obviously great
   performance.

   Young musicians of the festival's International Program (of
   coaching and performing) also acquitted themselves well during
   the afternoon Prelude concert. Violinist Nathan Olson, violist
   Jessica Oudin, and cellist David Requiro presented an excellent
   Beethoven String Trio in G Major (Op. 9, No. 1), starting with
   spacious opening bars, exhibiting a playful ensemble sound. They
   got into the heart of the music in the second-movement Adagio,
   with restraint, and singing the "cantabile" part that has one
   of Beethoven's best vocal-music passage (albeit written for
   strings). Olson and Oudin are eloquent musicians; Requiro presents
   a fascinating contrast of looking impossibly young and yet playing
   with consistent, calm maturity. The trio - and the audience -
   had great fun with the Presto's breakneck (and yet accurate)
   rush.

   Pianist Teresa Yu, featured in a previous festival concert
   described in Classical Voice (www.sfcv.org), was even more
   impressive at this Prelude concert, anchoring the Beethoven
   Piano Quartet in E-flat Major (Op. 16), with a bright sound and
   rock-solid consistency, serving as an eminently musical metronome
   . . . and leader. Violinist Amy Schroeder, violist Gillian
   Gallagher, and cellist Andrew Yee played "gravely" where this
   work - originally written for woodwinds - called for it, but
   also channeling later the lively sound of those instruments.
   (The opening Allegro is actually marked "Grave.")

   Gallagher took a star turn in the Andante cantabile, her viola
   floating on pearly runs from Yu's piano. Through the work, the
   young musicians met the music's unusual challenge of repeating
   long passages, and yet making the same notes sound different
   every time.

   (Janos Gereben, a regular contributor to www.sfcv.org, is arts
   editor of the Post Newspaper Group.)

Janos Gereben/SF
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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