Schubert in Transition: [email protected]

Franz Schubert Image_edited-1

Under the rubric, “Metamorphosis, 1822-1824,” [email protected] extended its broad survey of Franz Schubert’s many=faceted contributions to the developing Romantic period with a grand concert Saturday, July 25 at The Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton. Devoting itself to two years in the course of Schubert’s evolution, the concert presented a number of diverse musical ensembles: the solo keyboard “Wanderer” Fantasy, the duo “Arpeggione” Sonata, two lieder for baritone and piano, and the grand Octet in F Major. By the concert’s finale, a dazzled audience rose in unanimous gratitude for a thoroughly consistent level of performance excellence.

The program began with Schubert’s A Minor “Arpeggione Sonata,” a piece Schubert conceived for a novel instrument from Johann Georg Staufer (1824) that constituted an experimental cross between a guitar and a cello, here arranged by the composer for viola (Paul Neubauer) and piano (Juho Pohjonen). Enhanced by the distinctly ripe and sweet tone of Neubauer’s Amati instrument – the former possession of the famed Paul Doktor – the three movements emerged with resonant sweetness, given Schubert’s innate gift to compose for the natural fluency and expressive tessitura of his instrument. Neubauer and Pohjonen certainly captured the mercurial affects in Schubert’s writing, its lyrical song, its nostalgic resignation, its musing intimacy. When we consider that this marvelous work lay unpublished until 1871 – well after any further applications of the defunct arpeggione had passed away – we realize how adventurous Schubert’s musical imagination and lofty, Viennese sensibility could be. The lovely Allegretto lilted with a distinctly Hungarian flavor, rustic and eminently animated.

Baritone Nikolay Borchev stepped to the stage with pianist Pohjonen to perform in his hefty, clarion voice two of Schubert’s lieder, Abendstern after Johann Mayrhofer (1824) and Der Wanderer by German poet Georg Schmidt (1816). The former song, though transcendental in character in response to Nature’s permanence, vacillates between pitches C-sharp and C, between A Major and A Minor modes, exaltation against paralyzing resignation. The entire ethos of “Der Wanderer” sinks into Byronic darkness and abandonment. From the desolation of C-sharp Minor the narrator embraces E Major as a desire for his home, the persistent heimweh motif of Romantic art. Despite the extremely slow tempo demanded by Schubert, baritone and pianist mesmerized our attention with a vocal characterization that, for many, would bear favorable comparison with the likes of Hans Hotter and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Directly responsive to the lied “Der Wanderer,” Schubert’s 1822 “Wanderer” Fantasy in C Major claims first place among his bravura, virtuoso showpieces for the keyboard, here performed in masterly fashion by Juho Pohjonen. The single movement subdivided into natural periods in Classical sonata-structure seems to have been invented by Schubert, to be imitated vigorously by Liszt and later, Schoenberg. Pohjonen exhibited a natural control over the disparate elements in this work, which opens Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo, in purely orchestral terms. The theme proper proves flexible enough to undergo persistent transformation, with a lyrical digression into E Major. The Adagio section directly quotes the 1816 song in C-sharp Minor for its brooding tone and capacity to seek more blissful climes. For the most part, Pohjonen’s approach could be termed “Apollinian,” for its attention to periodic landings, architecture, and symmetry of dynamic expression. But when the music called for modulations into relative majors and minors or for blistering octave runs – and the later fugato in four voices – Pohjonen could release those Dionysian powers of the unabashed piano virtuoso, volcanic and dazzling. Considering the range of motion and tempered dynamics Pohjonen had to project in the course of the concert’s first half, we would have to proclaim him the complete Schubertiad musician.

Schubert composed his 1824 Octet in F Major on a commission from Count Ferdinand von Troyer, an accomplished clarinetist who held the position of chief steward for Archduke Rudolph of Austria. The scoring certainly favors the clarinet (Alexander Fiterstein), who enjoys some mesmerizing duos with the violin (Sean Lee) and the cello (Dmitri Atapine). But no less fluid and musically incisive are the parts for French horn (Kevin Bivard) and the throaty bassoon (Peter Kolkay). When not sounding like the ideal “outdoor” music for winds, the string section – Arnaud Sussmann, violin; Pierre Lapointe, viola; and Scott Pingel bass – along with the aforementioned string players, often intoned melodic riffs reminiscent of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet or his symphonies, particularly the Prague Symphony. Although the Beethoven Septet, Op. 20 served as Schubert’s thorny impetus, the music surpasses the Beethoven opus in its “symphonic” range and instrumental dexterity.

In the course of the Octet’s six movements, each of the individual instruments has his spotlight, solo or in dialogue. Tonight’s musicians not only blended harmoniously, but they seemed equally rapt and responsive to each other’s sound. The genial second movement – an eminently Viennese theme and variations – elicited dulcet tones from violinist Chen and bassoon Kolkay. The Scherzo movement enjoyed a bustle and rustic energy that adumbrates Bruckner. The last movement might have first trembled with shades from Weber’s Der Freischuetz or Goethe’s Walpurgis Night. But the clouds dispersed almost as quickly as they had formed, transforming into an infectious Allegro that had us all keeping time with our feet as readily as our hands converged into boisterous applause upon the last note of the wild coda.


Archived in these categories: Chamber music, Classical Era, Piano, Romantic Era, Vocal.
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