in: Reviews

November 2, 2009

Common Ground Between Disparates: Emmanuel Performs Haydn, Schoenberg

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Emmanuel Music presented the second chamber music concert of its 2009-2010 “Haydn/Schoenberg: Fathers of Invention” concert season on Sunday, November 1. Featuring rarely heard works, the concert was billed as a “Treasure Hunt,” unwrapping musical treasures from the two composers through the musical talents of Bruce Creditor (clarinet), Pamela Dellal (mezzo-soprano), Gabriela Diaz (violin), Margaret Dyer (viola), Rafael Popper-Keizer (cello), Peggy Pearson (oboe), and Brett Hodgdon (piano).

The performers approached this less familiar repertoire with sensitivity and intimacy and wholly without the pomposity that often accompanies contemporary music performance. I appreciated hearing Haydn and Schoenberg side by side, and applaud Emmanuel Music’s efforts in finding common ground between what are often viewed as the most disparate of musics.

Pearson, Diaz, Dyer, and Popper-Keizer deftly handled Schoenberg’s three canons, written in 1934 during the composer’s brief time in Boston. The particularities of canonic writing require excellent ensemble work, and each of the performers agreed on the nuances of the opening puzzle cannon for which Schoenberg only notated one line of music, asking the canonic parts to enter at the unorthodox intervals of a fifth, seventh and eleventh. Violinist Gabriela Diaz, in particular, seemed equally comfortable with Schoenberg’s more lyrical moments in the opening canon as she was with the angular gestures of the second canon.

The same sensitivity carried over to Haydn’s Piano Trio in A-flat, featuring Diaz and Popper-Keizer with Brett Hodgdon on piano. Both violin and cello grasped the light and clear writing in the opening movement, while Hodgdon’s playing tended to be a bit heavy (although this smoothed out as the movement progressed). But it was the sentimental melody of the Adagio where Diaz shone most brightly. While Haydn is often held up as a folksy and humorous tunesmith, this movement (along with the Adagio of the quartet performed on the second half) revealed his ability to write melodies of great pathos. During the pizzicato section, both cello and violin artfully matched articulation, a feat they repeated in every piece on the program.

While Hodgdon’s gestures seemed somewhat rushed in the Haydn, he was clearly very at home with Schoenberg’s repertoire, particularly in the chamber “tone poem” Ein Stelldichein, based on a text by Richard Dehmel, the poetic idol of Schoenberg and his student, Anton Webern. In this composition, Schoenberg moves freely through the mists of Dehmel’s ghostly “rendezvous,” offering up both the late Romantic language of his Verklärte Nacht (1899) as well as more raucous gestures and abrupt cadences. Hodgdon effortlessly conjured up the dreamlike state, and Popper-Keizer and Diaz both gently offered layers of mist as the ensemble built toward a climax dramatically carried by the oboe and clarinet.

Pamela Dellal and Hodgdon presented Schoenberg’s Three Songs, Berlin 1933, with an understanding of the contrapuntal intricacies between singer and piano (made more noticeable with the piano at full-stick). Dellal maintained a connection through all three of the texts by Jakob Haringer, most noticeably at her final cadences, where she captured the desolation of the texts, but never at the sacrifice of the beautiful poetic images.

It was the second half of the program, however, that so perfectly summarized the rationale behind the entire concert series. Schoneberg’s 1946 String Trio recalled some of the ghostly moments of Ein Stelldichein, and Diaz, Dyer and Popper-Keizer smoothly navigated the extended string techniques, moving together as a single organism. All three players were tuned in to Schoenberg’s motivic subtlety, using understatement as a performing force, rather than the overbearing “seriousness” so many seem to bring to this repertoire. The performers had no fear of playing on the edge of perception, making the work dance between life and death, and were rewarded by an enthusiastic response from an audience appreciative of their nuanced interpretation.

Peggy Pearson’s arrangement of Haydn’s String Quartet in D minor, No. 35 (Op. 42) maintained this self-assured, yet humble approach to the music. Pearson’s softest moments were the most riveting, particularly in the opening and third movements. The beginning of the second movement Minuet seemed a bit strident, but the oboe substitution generally worked well, avoiding pastoral clichés. The final movement ended with a complete lack of excess ceremony, in homage to a composer who perhaps should not need to shout in order to be heard.

Haydn and Schoenberg both have been judged by canonical works, and it was a pleasure to investigate the periphery of their output. Indeed, one had the sense of personal invitation to this musical Schatzkammer, wherein each of the performers lovingly pulled back the velvet curtain to reveal treasures that have been too long lost to our artistic consciousness.

Rebecca Marchand, musicologist and mezzo-soprano, holds a Ph.D in Musicology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She serves on the faculty of the Longy School of Music, and teaches also at Boston Conservatory and Providence College.

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