Tuesday, October 6, 2015

concert reviews

Saturday, to Symphony Silicon Valley to review the season-opening concert, the one George Cleve was going to conduct when he was still alive and well enough to do it. Verdict: the Schumann symphony one of the best performances I'd ever heard; the Beethoven concerto, well, not one of the best I'd ever heard.

I did not recognize the pianist's encore. Felt better on inquiring and being told it was by Medtner, a composer of deserved obscurity. The contact told me who Medtner was - a Russian pianist/composer contemporary with Rachmaninoff - but I already knew that; nor did my assigned word-count allow room to explain who the author of the encore was.

I first heard of Medtner - and have rarely heard of him anywhere else since - from a passing reference in the Rachmaninoff chapter of Harold C. Schonberg's Lives of the Great Composers, a then-new book I read in 1971 when I was still a budding learner. Schonberg calls him "a good craftsman who seldom came up with an original idea," a distinction with which Schonberg pairs him with Ernst von Dohnányi.

Now that's interesting, if a little misplaced, because on Sunday afternoon, after virtuously turning in my review, I ran down to Palo Alto specifically to hear a work by Dohnányi. It was his Piano Quintet No. 2 in E-flat minor, Op. 26, a piece I discovered and fell hard for when the Menlo festival programmed it 3 years ago. It's not the only Dohnányi work I'd hold as a masterpiece, either: his Suite for orchestra, Op. 19, is a long-time favorite.

The performers didn't expect the Dohnányi would be a draw: in speaking beforehand, one asked for a show of hands of anyone who'd heard the piece before. Only a few of us responded; I'm surprised, as I'm sure others there besides myself heard it at Menlo.

The concert was by a new, or at least re-invented, group called the Ives Collective. Their website is ambiguous as to whether two of the members of the old Ives Quartet have quit; what is certain is that the other two have decided to expand their repertoire by organizing concerts drawing upon a larger variety of players. This one featured works for piano and varying numbers of strings: besides the Dohnányi quintet, we had the Schumann Op. 47 quartet and the Mendelssohn Op. 66 trio.

Performances were good, though the old Ives penchant for occasionally dodgy intonation has not gone away, but the venue - an unusual one for them, and new to me; maybe their regular one wasn't available that day - was not ideal. It was a church apparently built as a grandiose monument to 1950s ecclesiastical architecture, and while it was vaguely in shoebox shape, which is good, the layout made it impossible for the performers to sit close to the back wall, so the sound diffused and echoed its way around the space.

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