"Impassioned" Menlo, review by Gary Lemco

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"Impassioned" Menlo, review by Gary Lemco

Post by Lance » Fri Aug 24, 2012 11:04 pm


“Impassioned” Menlo
By Gary Lemco

Music by Schumann, Dvořák,, and Fauré comprised the “Impassioned” concert for Music@Menlo’s recital for Sunday, August 5, 2012 at The Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton. Music especially prone to “romantic” sentiments constituted this ardent program: Schumann’s Maerchenbilder for Viola and Piano, Op. 113; Dvořák’s F Minor Piano Trio, Op. 65; and Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45. Once more, assembled members of the Menlo music community basked in their congeniality and blithe spirits, and the appreciative audience remained in thrall; or, as the rubric for evening indicated, they were “Listeners on Fire.”

Richard O’Neill, viola and Gilbert Kalish, piano collaborated in the 1851 Fairy-Tale Pictures of Schumann, four movements that wistfully convey the naiveté of the composer’s “nostalgia for the dream” of life. The first piece, in D minor, enjoyed the mellow viola tone O’Neill sports, despite the somewhat melancholy cast of the interweaving lyrics. The Lebhaft exacts that strange march-fantasy endemic in Schumann, asking for a more percussive spirit of the two principals. Kalish displayed his own prowess in the running triplets of the Rasch section, while the viola elucidated Schumann’s natural talent for lovely melody. The last, most extended section, “Slowly, with melancholy expression,” suggested a kind of minor victory even in sadness, having modulated to D major and hints of childhood sunlight.

Perhaps the darkest of the Dvořák Piano Trios, the F Minor, Op. 65 (1883) rings with Romantic Agony or the Czech version of the German “sturm und drang.” Several commentators attribute the tight, driven cast of the work to the influence of Johannes Brahms. Violinist Arnaud Sussman, cellist David Finckel, and pianist Gilbert Kalish realized this intensely concertante composition, which several times assumed symphonic proportions given the primal ferocity of the players. Even so, Dvořák’s capacity for melodic invention never falters, and both Sussman and Finckel basked in their respective melodic contributions. The second movement Allegro grazioso, in spite of its own, distinct energies presented a less severe, German aura, offering Bohemian impulses in the form of a polka. Alternately glittery and convulsive the movement displayed the respective virtuosity of each principal. The Poco adagio blended Sussman’s violin and Finckel’s cello most gloriously, an extended operatic duet worthy of Dvořák’s idol Mozart. More Bohemian dances ensued in the energized finale: a furiant, a waltz, a dumka, all subsumed into an abridged sonata-rondo form, the movement dazzled for its seamless invention as executed by three instrumentalists who clearly enjoyed each other’s sound.

The concert ended with the Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45 (1887) of Gabriel Fauré, a composer better known for mellow, haunted and often modal sound but who in this piece allows many unfettered passions their day in the sun. Pianist Wu Han joined forces with Arnaud Sussman, violin; Richard O’Neill, viola, and Dmitri Atapine, cello for a beautifully homogenous ensemble in this work, familiar to some of us from the recording for RCA many years ago by Victor Babin’s Festival Quartet. Dedicated to Hans von Bülow, the piece exults in virtuoso passage work for piano, a testament to Faure’s own craft, since he premiered it. The Scherzo, most forcibly, demonstrates the kind of wicked propulsion Faure could garner when his urge to expression so demanded. In the first movement, Allegro molto moderato, Fauré called for the three strings, unisono, to sing the main melody over a sustained turbulence from the keyboard. Often, O’Neill’s plaintive viola led the entry of themes; and the resultant sound body reminded me than once of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. The Adagio offered its own challenges in Fauré’s applications of the initial 9/8 meter, with the instruments’ imitating the bells of some distant church. If Ravel knew this movement as a source for La Vallee des cloches, I wouldn’t be surprised. The “classic calm” of this movement left a striking impression on anyone in attendance. Finally, the Allegro molto last movement revived the often frenetic impulses of the first movement, perhaps forcing the writing to do more through its economy and rigor; but with the explosive coda, we knew had taken a rare trip into a Fauré countryside we would traverse very often. ♪

Dr. Gary R. Lemco regularly reviews for Classical
Music Guide
. He resides in California

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