in: Reviews

September 12, 2010

Refreshing Juxtaposition of Schumann, Barber in Longy’s SeptemberFest Opener

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Longy School of Music kicked off its highly anticipated, month-long celebration of Schumann and Barber on Friday evening with a sold-out hall on September 10.  The two composers reach their 200th and 100th birthdays this year, respectively. In fact, it’s a big season for even-numbered composer-birthdays: Mahler and Hugo Wolf  at 150, Schumann and Chopin turn 200, Pergolesi, 300, Lambert, 400 – and don’t even get me started on composer-deaths!  Coincidental birthdates aside, Longy is taking the opportunity to highlight an interesting stylistic conundrum: juxtaposing a wealth of archetypical Romantic music against what we generally tend to label “Neo-Romantic” music of the 20th century.

BMInt’s own Rebecca Marchand addressed this very issue in her eloquent and informative pre-concert lecture “Isn’t it Romantic?. . . Or is it?” that quelled any raised eyebrows that may potentially have been brought on by the 50-percent 20th-century series’ tagline, The Romantic Spirit.  A certain likeness in imagination and gesture, however, did become clear throughout the evening, and it was refreshing to hear both Schumann and Barber in a different context than their usual settings. The program began with Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op.73, originally for cello and piano, performed brilliantly by clarinetist Michael Wayne and pianist Hugh Hinton.  Wayne’s lyricism in the “Zart und mit Ausdruck” was darkly arresting, and the “Rasch und mit Feuer” danced with animated virtuosity.

Baritone Kyle Siddons, accompanied by pianist Mark McNeill, performed Barber’s Three Songs based on James Joyce texts; Siddons sung “I Hear an Army” with the power and booming resonance necessary to deliver the text convincingly. Pianists Eda Shlyam and Ludmilla Lifson followed with Schumann’s Andante und Variationen, Op. 46. The piece was originally written for two pianos, two cellos, and horn but is more often performed in its piano-duet version. The abilities of Lifson and Shlyam really shone through in some of the fast-paced and mind-bogglingly difficult later variations, but the true apex of the piece, perhaps even the entire evening, was the delicate, elegiac coda after the following final statement of the theme.

Barber’s Cello Sonata is undoubtedly one of his most celebrated and performed works for small ensemble. It is also one that seems most reminiscent of late Romanticism, despite its somewhat mundane conformityto Classical-era forms. Mihail Jojatu’s immense talent was indisputable in his performance, though it seemed that his full-fledged, relentless intensity, despite being poignantly informed by the piece’s stylistic roots, robbed the piece of its more fragile moments and set the dynamic of the work into a shallower relief than I would have liked.

Dimitri Murrath concluded the evening with Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 121, performed on viola.  The Lento, con Energia is likely twice as impressive on viola as it is on violin, though there were unquestionable compromises when the viola was forced into an uncomfortable upper register. Throughout the performance, though, Murrath handled these compromises well, and at some of the more of delicate moments of the piece, such as the Simplice and parts of the following variation movement, the distinct color of the viola seemed even more appropriate than violin. Unfortunately, the finale began to lose steam and the pianist and violist seemed to loose their sense of solidarity. The final moments of the concert were regrettably plagued by a number of cringes, as there was no doubt that the performance quality faltered towards the end of the program. Nonetheless, with such attractive programming and consummate musicians on board, it is no wonder the concert events for the rest of Longy’s SeptemberFest are already completely sold out.

Peter Van Zandt Lane is a composer and bassoonist who performs regularly in the Boston area. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Music Composition and Theory at Brandeis University.

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