in: Reviews

February 2, 2009

Emmanuel Music Continues Schumann Concerts with Intensity, Balance, and Grace

by

This week’s Schumann offering from Emmanuel Music, now in its fifth year of presenting all of Robert Schumann’s compositions, featured two guest artists, Ya-Fei Chuang and Robert Levin, with Emmanue Music regulars. The program consisted of Wilhelm Meister Lieder, Op 98a, with Kendra Colton, soprano, Mark McSweeney, bass, and Ya-Fei Chuang, piano. It was followed by the composer’s Toccata in C Major, Op. 7, Ya-Fei Chuang at the piano. The final piece was the Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63, with Rose Mary Harbison, violin, Rhonda Rider, cello, and Robert Levin, piano. John Harbison introduced the concert on February 1 with a brief paean to the late works of Robert Schumann, relatively less heard but no less worthy of the better known works. The introduction was amply justified by the concert that followed.

Kendra Colton and Mark McSweeny brought out the intensity in Goethe’s Meister poetry, which is largely of loneliness, age, and loss. Ya-Fei Chuang accompanied them with exceptional sensitivity and grace, which we have come to expect from this gifted performer. She put the piano on half-stick when she came out, and I wished she had not. Balance was never a problem, and the extra brilliance of the piano would have matched the singers better. Both singers sang from memory with excellent German diction. The more “inner” of the poems were beautiful – although some of the strong passages seemed loud and forced, especially from Mark McSweeny. Too often the sound was full power, which is not needed in the small chamber recital room at Emmanuel.

Ya-Fei then played Schumann’s frenetic Toccata in C Major at a seemingly impossible speed – but with great feeling. The work seems manic in its speed and complexity – new phrases pile on top of previous ones like thoughts that interrupt and crowd upon the mind. It was over too soon; the audience gasped for air before wildly applauding.

The final work was a moving performance of the Trio in D minor, Opus 63. Rhonda Rider was particularly effective – the cello seems to carry the weight of the music. Rose Mary Harbison and Robert Levin kept pace. I was struck by the excellent balance of the performance. With the piano top up, Levin never overbalanced the other players – but when the piano had the lead, he was always just the right loudness.

Overall, a fabulous concert, greatly enjoyed by the full house.

The Schumann offerings continue next week, on February 8, with Frauenliebe und-Leben, Op. 42, Fantasiestucke, Op. 12, Spanische Liebeslieder, Op. 138.

David Griesinger is a Harvard-trained physicist who is emminent in the field of sound and music. His website is here.

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