Schubertiade in Santa Cruz

To conclude its 34thseason, Distinguished Artists Concert and lecture Series founder, impresario and pianist John Orlando offered classical music lovers an unusual program: a 21stcentury “SCHUBERTIADE” at Peace united Church in Santa Cruz on Saturday evening March 16. Schubert, arguably the greatest songwriter of all time, wrote more than 600 songs that came to light throughout the 19thcentury in manuscripts left mostly at the homes of the original “Schubertiade” spontaneous evening gatherings hosted by several of this composer’s friends.

Schubert as a child not only learned violin & piano at home, but because of his pure soprano voice gained a place in the Imperial Court chorus conducted by the “famous” Salieri, who is depicted as a villain in the brilliant film “Amadeus.” When Schubert’s voice broke at 14, he left the Imperial Chorus, but he had already had begun to exploit his lifetime skill of composing exquisite melodies inspired by some the most significant poetry of his time. Unable to survive more than a few years as a schoolmaster, he truly was perhaps the world’s most distinguished and penniless musician, dependent luckily on a brief lifetime of supportive friends for food and lodgings. Thus, came about the delightful “Schubertiades” at the homes of many supporters, where he accompanied singers and improvised at the keyboard. Like Mozart, Schubert often wrote perfect first drafts, but without seeking publication, and many of his songs were not published until many years after his death.

While the well-attended event was a huge success, the few Schubert songs from Adeli with Goldstein at the piano unfortunately did not make as much of an impact as they might have, since they were interspersed among the many short Schumann piano pieces. Saturday’s concert featured pianist John Orlando, Israeli pianist Alon Goldstein, clarinetist James Pytko and super mezzo-soprano Solmaaz Adeli in a musical offering that combined a sampler of keyboard works by Franz Schubert and a rarely heard set of Fantasy Pieces for Piano and Clarinet by Robert Schumann. The real novelty of the evening turned out to be the performance of various selections from Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, interspersed with Schubert songs sung by Adeli.

Opening the program in the candle-lit church was a brief, charming piano duet, Rondo in A Major, (again a late work from 1828) very well done by Orlando playing treble and Goldstein bass. (we would love to hear them sometime in the haunting, tragic Fantasie in F Minor), with Orlando doing an impressive job on the sensitive, expressive primo melody. Then, instead of a couple of the programmed “Impromptus,” Goldstein did a powerful and magnificent job on the 1822 Wanderer Fantasie, Schubert’s most technically difficult piano work, later arranged to be performed with orchestra in an elaborate transcription by Liszt. 

The rarely heard Schumann (1810-1856) Fantasy Pieces Op.73 for clarinet and piano (1849) with Goldstein at the keyboard and superbly energetic clarinetist James Pytko were a show stopper, done with intense energy by the clarinetist, whom we hope will return in another Distinguished Artists series.

After Intermission, several Schubert songs were interwoven into Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15, which included Du Bist die Ruh (Rest and Peace), Im Abendrot (At Sunset), Death & the MaidenTo Music, and Waterflood, ably performed by Goldstein at the keyboard and the somewhat short shrifted songstress Solmaaz Adeli, because of the fragmentation of Kinderscenen, better done in its entirety. The experimental mixing of solo piano pieces and song unfortunately didn’t give us enough opportunity to hear Adeli’s fabulous mezzo soprano voice and her impeccable German. Let’s bring her back in another “Schubertiade” where she can display her great voice in a song cycle by this composer, Die Schöne Muellerin being this reviewer’s first choice. However, this season’s final Distinguished Artists program will linger in our memories as a rare “SCHUBERTIADE.” Let’s have another one soon!

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