Seattle Chamber Music Society: 2011 Winter Festival
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The last date listed for 2011 Winter Festival was Thursday January 27, 2011 / 7:30pm (Pre-Concert Recital at 6:30pm).
Quotes & Highlights
See the entire 2011 Winter Festival Schedule.
Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 1
Scott Yoo, Erin Keefe, Emily Daggett Smith, Andrés Díaz, Adam Neiman
Sonata for Cello and Piano in F Major, Op. 99
Edward Arron, Jeewon Park
Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 57
Stefan Jackiw, Ida Levin, Richard O’Neill, Ronald Thomas, William Wolfram
Joaquín Turina (1882–1949)
Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 1 (1907)
Born in Seville, Joaquin Turina pursued a career in music against parental wishes that he choose a more certain vocation. In Turina’s case, even though his father hoped the boy would pursue medicine as a livelihood, he allowed the young man to follow his bliss—music. This “concession” probably reflected the father’s profession: He was a painter!
Along with Manuel de Falla, Emmanuel Chabrier and Isaac Albéniz, Turina composed music that evokes the exotic Iberian musical heritage but with an unmistakable French accent à la Debussy and Ravel. As many composers had done before him, he studied medicine in deference to his family’s wishes before the pull of music led him to abandon Hippocrates in favor of Euterpe. He established himself as both composer and pianist while still in adolescence, eventually moved to Paris in 1905 to study piano with Moritz Moszkowski and composition with Vincent D’Indy at the Schola Cantorum. The exoticism and genius of Debussy proved irresistible, as did valued mentoring by Albéniz.
In 1907, before receiving advice from Albéniz and Falla to return to Spain and draw upon its folk-music heritage, Turina composed his Quintet for Piano and Strings, Op. 1. At the time he was under the guiding influence of Vincent D’Indy at the Schola Cantorum, still under posthumous sway of César Franck. No surprise, then, that the Piano Quintet has pronounced Franckian (and Brahmsian, too) overtones; his Spanish-flavored music lay in the future. More to the point, it was upon hearing this very work at Turina’s graduation performance that the aforementioned Albéniz and Falla urged the young man to head south over the Pyrenees both literally and figuratively.
A melancholy theme in the strings opens the first movement, Fugue lente. After a brief swell, the piano enters in a style that recalls a Bachian adagio filtered through late Romantic ardor. The rich piano sonorities clearly evoke the keyboard music of Franck and his German alter ego Brahms. Much of the melodic material slides up and down in step-wise fashion. The resultant chromatic harmony even suggests the parallel universe of early Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht.
A swaggering jaunt marked Animé dispels the first movement’s melancholy. A syncopated secondary theme, less forceful and more lyrical than the opening salvo balances things. Though firmly in the Franck/Brahms orbit, occasional wafts of Iberia—most evident in numerous downward shifts from flatted sixths to dominant chords—hint at future endeavors. As in the Fugue lente, there is a great deal of stepwise melody.
Rapt and introspective, a lovely Andante scherzo shows that not all scherzos are jesting, burly and/or thumpingly emphatic. In a slowly unfolding triple meter, the music counterpoises introspection with quirkiness, the latter evinced by quickly rising scalar fragments shared by strings and piano. As the movement proceeds the energy level increases in an emphatic nod to traditional scherzo tendencies.
Abrupt and assertive, the piano launches the concluding Recitatif—Allegro—Lento, which is almost immediately echoed by the strings. The initial section—reflecting its recitative marking—sets in rapid motion the scurrying Allegro. Propelled by forceful thrusts in the piano amply supported by the equally engaged strings, the music occasionally slows to a comfortable walking gait before reprising its fervor. Toward the end of the movement a less hectic infusion of sweet rapture briefly interrupts the heady Romantic passion.
__Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)_
Sonata for Cello and Piano in F Major, Op. 99 (1886)
By the early years of his sixth decade, Brahms had achieved iconic status in Vienna, not merely as a composer, but as a performer/conductor, editor, and advocate for younger composers (the last-mentioned including anonymous donations from his bank account). In need of a well-earned vacation from his multiple activities, the composer fled the city for three successive summers to the lakeside resort of Thun, nestled in the majestic Swiss Alps. Absorbing the life-enhancing beauties of the area’s scenic splendor, Brahms enjoyed frequent conversations with his friend, the writer Joseph Widmann, and gave free rein to his rejuvenated creative energies. The first of these summer jaunts in 1886 gave birth to three important chamber works: the Op. 100 Violin Sonata, the Op. 101 Piano Trio, and his big-boned Sonata No. 2 in F Major for Cello and Piano, Op. 99
Annotators often describe many of Brahms’ late-life works as “autumnal,” a reasonable characterization if not pressed too strenuously. Such a description does not, however, do justice to the Op. 99 Sonata; it is, indeed, a work of considerable ardor and rhapsodic passion. Twenty years had elapsed since his earlier cello/piano sonata, a composition far more restrained emotionally, one that could be termed “autumnal” except for its relatively early genesis.
As if buoyed by the verdant radiance of his temporary surroundings, the F-Major Sonata expresses youthful vigor. Strong and propulsive, its moods are varied and maximal in contrast. The first movement, Allegro vivace, abounds in tremolos and massive broken chords in the piano’s lower realm, providing a stormy atmospheric backdrop against which the cello successfully maintains equal footing. Brahms cannily sets the cello’s declamatory utterances high in that instrument’s range, assuring its audibility in the midst of dense, “orchestral” sonorities on the piano. Uneasy quaking is heightened by the harmonic shift from F to the remote tonality of F-sharp minor at the start of the development.
An imaginative dollop of color emerges in the second movement, Adagio affetuoso. A spooky, even ominous, pizzicato cello theme floats eerily above sustained chords from the piano as the music unfolds mysteriously. After this arresting introduction, the mood changes toward effusive sentiment for much of the movement, as once again Brahms moves furtively into distant tonal centers, this time from F-sharp Major to F minor.
The ensuing Allegro passionato, a scherzo in all but name, marks an apparent return to the turbulent atmosphere of the opening movement, yet despite the energy and bustle of its 6/8 tempo, there is unmistakable good-natured parody while romping along in the minor mode; one thinks fleetingly of an elfin scherzo by Mendelssohn, herein populated by dancing bears! Yet there are tinges of menace—they are “bears” after all—and the tension is undeniably enhanced by the skillful ambiguity of its conflicting moods.
The concluding energetic finale, Allegro molto, maintains lightness of feeling, though not texture, and finds Brahms in an unbuttoned mood, availing himself of a folk-like theme that weaves through the rondo to an emphatic and concise close.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 57 (1940)
Dmitri Shostakovich became acquainted with the music of Gustav Mahler in the middle 1920s, largely through recommendation from his friend Ivan Sollertinsky, a major force in Soviet musical circles. Shostakovich’s depressive tendencies found a kindred spirit in the nightmarish scherzos of Mahler. Both composers shared a dark view of the world, in each case shaped by personal biography and a sense of apartness from the often hostile environments in which they lived. Thoughts of persecution and death dogged them almost continuously, though the threat to Shostakovich was considerably greater than what his predecessor faced. Well-justified fear of potentially lethal intervention from Soviet authority added to Shostakovich’s innate emotional reticence. Self-protection led him to create a public persona. In his music, however, he bares his inner feelings, surreptitiously (and wisely) to be sure, given the realities of Stalinism.
Shostakovich’s Quintet for Piano and Strings has generally been described as his best-known chamber work aside from the Eighth String Quartet and Second Piano Trio. He wrote it in the first full year after the onset of World War II. In 1941 it was awarded a Stalin Prize, one of several accorded Shostakovich, who despite the honor had to keep his cards close to his chest.
The Quintet is one of many works written for the esteemed Beethoven String Quartet. The ensemble had, in fact, premiered most of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets, and asked the composer to create a Piano Quintet to perform with the composer at the keyboard. Shostakovich did not have to be asked a second time and quickly produced a finished score in the summer of 1940. At the premiere in November, the audience went wild, all but demanding the ensemble to repeat the Scherzo and Finale. The accessibility and serious but not oppressive mood of the piece resonated with early and subsequent audiences.
The solemnity of the opening Prelude: Lento is redolent of a number of Bach preludes (a foretaste, perhaps, of Shostakovich’s Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues for Piano from 1950-51). The piano is soon answered by the four string players, and the mood lightens temporarily before returning to the drama of the opening bars.
What follows is another nod to the Cantor of Leipzig, a profoundly touching Fugue: Adagio, based on a theme of a distinctly Russian folk character. Announced by the first violin, the music unfolds as a broad singing line passed along to the remaining instruments, occasionally enhanced by new thematic kernels. Following a cathartic and intense climax, the tension is allowed to dissipate, ending the movement in virtual quietude.
A wicked, black-humored Scherzo: Allegretto follows, its dark irony a clear descendant of equivalent movements from Mahler’s Second and Seventh symphonies. Sardonic and vehement, the piano posits a deceptively simply two-part theme while the slashing strings accompany as if in mortal combat. Jabbing, jesting dissonances introduce a Trio-like middle section of melodic rusticity before a somewhat varied reprise of the opening material.
The fourth movement, Intermezzo: Lento, retreats into melancholy serenity in the form of a dialogue between a broadly flowing tune and a staccato line that once again recalls the “walking” bass found in Bach and his Baroque contemporaries and predecessors.
The ending pages of the I_ntermezzo_ introduce a thematic foreshadowing of the Finale, which begins without pause. The_ Allegretto_ tempo is slower than usual for a Shostakovich finale. Its mood, however, is optimistic—even naïve given the horrors that lay just around the bend in the Soviet Union in 1940. Combining the rhythmic verve of both the march and the dance, the music bounces along with élan until the final bars’ unexpected calm.
Program Notes by Steven Lowe
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