in: Reviews

September 27, 2010

More Schumann and Barber at Longy

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As noted earlier by Peter Van Zandt Lane and Geoffrey Wieting in these pages, the Longy School of Music’s “Septemberfest” for 2010 is entitled, The Romantic Sprit: Celebrating the Music of Robert Schumann & Samuel Barber, whose birthday anniversaries (200th and 100th, respectively) occur this year. This fourth program on September 24th, like the others, had its own title: “Songs of Nature, Evening, and Youth,” and as that suggests, it was a mixed bag in many ways. The program was most intelligently planned: a Nocturne for piano by Barber, surrounded by its predecessors by Field and Chopin; vocal and piano music by both featured composers; and for contrast, Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, for horn and piano. Alas, the evening was often a disappointment, because of the uneven performances by Longy faculty, as noted by our prior reviewers. As they also mentioned, however, the program notes by another faculty member and our BMint colleague, Rebecca Marchand, were outstanding, and created context and aura that somehow the performances lacked.

Pianist Esther Ning Yau has a quiet sense of the dramatic, at least in these three Nocturnes, for the most part performed Lento, as written. Field’s Fifth, in B-flat major (1817), was nicely shaped and phrased, with singing tone, holding back phrase arrivals for emphasis. Barber’s “Homage to John Field,”op. 33 (1959) was thus clearly related to Field’s, with whiffs of atonality delicately played. Chopin’s op. 48, no. 1 (not his first as listed in the program) was a different story. After beginning mezza voce as marked, and after the second repetition of the theme, Yau quickly began a crescendo to fortissimo and stayed there, no doubt due to the thicker texture. Nevertheless the rest of the piece is dotted with pianissimos, and we didn’t hear them.

Barber’s Dover Beach, op. 3, is an early work (1931), an aching setting of the poem by Matthew Arnold written some eighty years earlier. It is written for medium voice, in this case the Visiting Artist and baritone Tom Meglioranza, with string quartet: Paula Majerfeld and Sara Matayoshi, violins, Andrew Eng, viola, and Mikhail Veselov, cello—a mixture of faculty and recent students. In spite of the text’s allusions to moonlight, this is a gloomy piece whose sighings were expressed richly, without being overwrought. Mr. Meglioranza’s dramatic sense reached its apex in his high “Ah,” of “Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!” This was a dramatic reading in a disciplined yet intense manner on the part of all, and the high point of the concert.

Turning now to Schumann, we heard his Adagio and Allegro, op. 70 (1849) for “Ventilhorn in F” and piano, performed by the BSO’s Jason Snider and the Longy School’s Dean Wayman Chin, respectively. The Adagio is a challenge for hornists because of the broad skips to, and attacks on high notes, to which Snider’s several breaks attested. The Allegro is a rondo with many repeated note patterns that felt more idiomatic. Nevertheless the duo appeared rhythmically uncertain in several phrases.

The remainder of the concert, now after intermission, comprised only the music of Schumann. I hesitate to comment on the selections from Schumann’s Zwölf Gedichte von Kerner, op. 35 (1840), performed by soprano D’Anna Fortunato and pianist Brian Moll, because Ms. Fortunato could scarcely be heard for various reasons, even from a seat relatively close to the stage. As always, however, her singing is a welcome musical experience, and her understanding of the texts deeply expressed. Robert Merfeld’s performance of nine miniatures for piano, Waldscenen, op. 82 was a puzzlement. The fourth scene, “Verrufene Stelle” (Cursed place, per the program note) is prefaced in the score by two verses from Friedrich Hebbel’s Waldbilder (Forest pictures). Merfeld took it upon himself to read that and five other poems in English before each piece, his voice projecting to the wall on stage left instead of to the audience. His performing palette was pallid and stumbling, and suffered from too many wrong notes, especially at the ends of phrases

The concert ended with a lively performance of Schumann’s Drei Gedichte von Geibel, op. 30 (1840), by Messrs. Meglioranza and Chin. Mr. Meglioranza had to strain a bit because the piano lid was fully opened, while Dean Chin was fully in the boisterous spirit of these pieces, “Der Knabe mit dem Wunderhorn,” “Der Page,” and “Der Hidalgo.” Nevertheless, Mr. Meglioranza’s diction, as always, was excellent, and both performers managed to provide an upbeat finish to an otherwise somewhat doleful concert.

Mary Wallace Davidson has directed the music libraries at Radcliffe, Wellesley, Eastman School of Music, and Indiana University. She now lives in the Boston area.

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