Music@Menlo Festival: Review by Gary Lemco

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Music@Menlo Festival: Review by Gary Lemco

Post by Lance » Tue Aug 02, 2005 9:16 pm

The Classical Touch
by Gary Lemco

Featuring a full survey of the Beethoven String Quartets as performed by selected quartet groups, the Music@Menlo Festival (through August 12) officially opened Thursday, July 28 at the Stent Family Hall, Menlo School, with a program devoted to Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart. The major premise of the Festival, "Beethoven: Center of Gravity," explores the Man Who Freed Music, the Bonn Master (1770-1827) who took the classical forms established by Haydn and Mozart and applied his idiosyncratic temperament to forge new, highly subjective musical works often rife with volcanic fury. Interested patrons must check the site at for the various, individual works and their respective venues. That this concert placed Beethoven’s popular Septet (1800) among diverse, ensemble pieces by Haydn and Mozart helped to establish the musical context from which Beethoven inherited those forms he was soon to revise, concentrate, and revolutionize.

The concert opened with Haydn’s Piano Trio in E-flat (1795), with Ian Swensen, violin; David Finckel, cello; and Derek Han, piano. Highly experimental in character, this musical curio eschewed anything like sonata-form, opening with a kind of ritornello or rondo which recurred in the keyboard part after vain attempts by cello (merely shading the violin part) and violin to subject the motif to development. With some heavy mugging from cellist Finckel and facial histrionics from Swensen, the piece took on a comic, theatrical character I keeping with Haydn’s irreverent approach to forms of his own devising. The second movement Allegretto was even more bizarre, opening with an extended, modal piano cadenza which the cello and later, violin, did manage to interrupt, albeit briefly enough. The last movement Rondo was the most traditional romp, occasionally looking forward to Beethoven’s unbuttoned, rustic style. Mr. Han’s piano work was impeccable, his ability to subdue his sound for the few real skirmishes with his fellow musicians beyond reproach.

Mozart’s unique Horn Quintet in E-flat Major, K. 407 (1782) enjoyed the efforts of William VerMeulen’s French horn; Geraldine Walther and Ian Swenson’s viola; Ronald Thomas’ cello; and the distinguished violin of veteran Joseph Silverstein. After some miffed entries, Mr. VerMuelen found his lips and rounded tone, and he soon exerted a fine control over Mozart’s punishing tessitura. Balances between Mr. Silverstein’s silken vibrato and VerMuelen’s increasingly plastic lines provided a broad canvas for the interior strings to ply their ingratiating filigree. The second movement Andante assumed the character of a plaint nocturne, much in the grand style of Mozart’s own Partita, K. 361.

For a grand finale, we had the pleasure of Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat, Op. 20, which paired Anthony McGill’s straightforward clarinet sound against Joseph Silverstein’s delicate vibrato, a most engaging texture throughout. With the addition of Dennis Goodburn, bassoon; Charles Chandler, bass; and the same principals as those in the Mozart Horn Quintet, we had a full concertante work for solo violin and clarinet , whose six movements marked the transition from the straits of classicism to a more expansive, romantic spirit. More than once we could hear adumbrations in the violin part of the two Romances and the exquisite Concerto in D. The pert Menuetto, its tune borrowed from the Sonatina in G Minor, was airy, martial, light and fluid at once, qualities that marked the entire performance. The textural open-work, the passing of a musical phrase among the instruments as it extends into time and space, became a color hallmark of future composers like Dvorak. If the rest of the Menlo series maintains the level of execution established at its happy inception, the rest of the series promises to be monumental and ethereal.

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