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“From Bach” = Music by many composers and performers (TrackList follows) – Music@Menlo Live 2013 (8 CDs)

“From Bach” = Music by many composers and performers (TrackList follows) – Music@Menlo Live 2013, (8 CDs) singly or boxed in paper wrapper, TT: 9:15:05 (2014) *****:

Music@Menlo continues on its honest, straightforward way as one of the most internally-focused chamber music festivals on the international circuit. Recorded live during the 2013 installment, at the Center for the Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton near Stanford University, Music@Menlo’s eleventh season celebrated Bach and other composers with a brilliant choice of artists and programming that was inspiring to the musicians and audiences alike.

A highlights reel from the many fine performances would include Schubert for piano four hands, Mozart for string trio, Haydn and Beethoven for string quartet, Brahms for piano trio, Bach on the piano, Saint-Saëns for violin and harp, and Bartok for two pianos and percussion, about which I will go into further detail.

Disc 1 contains a performance of Schubert’s Rondo in A Major for Piano, Four Hands, Op. 107, D. 951 by Derek Han and Hyeyeon Park that must have been transfixing in the hall; it is an easy piece to captivate an audience with – all you have to do is release Schubert’s songful melodies gently from under your fingers. Here, Han and Park roll out the beguiling, enchanted melodies with velvet tones at a moderate, just right pace.

Disc 1 ends with a sophisticated performance of Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion in which pianist Gilbert Kalish inscribes the lines of Bartok’s visionary blueprints and generates warmth from the stunning precision of the playing, a feat he repeats on Disc 2, with the Danish String Quartet, in a similar work by a dissimilar composer: Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57.

Disc 3 is notable for a pleasantly perky rendition of Bach’s very C minor Concerto for Violin and Oboe, BWV 1060, which everyone, particularly oboist James Austin Smith, play exquisitely.

Disc 4 features an impressive showing by the Danish String Quartet in one of Haydn’s most difficult works, the String Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, No. 5; once they have successfully negotiated the unrelenting first movement, however, the three Danes and one Norwegian cellist unfurl their sails; they capture the rapture and magic of the “Adagio,” gauging the speed of the main theme perfectly by taking into account the transformations Haydn is going to ask the music to make. They also get inside the concluding “Fuga a due soggetti,” with a refreshing feeling of curling up inside as opposed to being confrontational, and then add a wonderfully rapt performance of Mendelssohn’s little Capriccio in e minor, Op. 81, No. 3. 

The disc comes to an end with the entire, glittering Music@Menlo roster delivering an audiophile performance of Benjamin Britten’s haunting Prelude and Fugue for Eighteen Strings, Op. 29, in which it seems, due also to the excellent recording, that you can follow every strand without losing the big picture impact.

Disc 5, and perhaps the entire 8-CD collection, is dominated by a performance of Mozart’s Divertimento  in E-flat major, K. 563 in which Arnaud Sussmann, Paul Neubauer and Colin Carr lay down a line of ravishing solo riffs phrased more purposefully yet exquisitely than I imagined possible. Each phrase, each intention, every bit of technical display in totally exposed fast 16th-note passages and slow ascending arpeggios alike, is a revelation, as if it had either been comprehensively rethought and predetermined or approached in the intrinsically musical, Music@Menlo ad hoc frame of mind.

Sussmann, Neubauer and Carr pick a perfect walking speed for the “Andante,” making sure each Variation an elegant delight; they made sure each minuet’s Trio is a speed-dating beauty. They make a brave attempt to secure control in the concluding 6/8 Allegro, seizing control at key transition points so that the movement doesn’t wander off into the night.

On Disc 6 Festival co-founder and artistic director Wu Han makes sounds to die for in Bach’s French Suite No. 5 BWV 816, applying a pointillist’s delicacy and eye for detail, including along the way the sound of a toy piano in the “Gavotte” and culminating exquisitely in “Gigue.” An even sweeter confectioner’s delight follows in the form Camille Saint-Saëns’ Fantaisie in A Major for Violin and Harp, op. 124 played ecstatically and virtuosically by harpist Bridget Kibbey and violinist Kristin Lee.

On Disc 7 the Danish Quartet rise to the occasion of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in a minor, Op. 132 which begins when they sweep into the first movement “Allegro” giving full values to notes, especially during key  transitions, finding moments of warmth in even the most intractable passages, and developing a real sense of dialogue between the instruments as Beethoven rolls out and distributes his melodies. There are surprising, refreshing individual touches everywhere, such as a wonderful dogged, sempre staccato in the Trio of the “Allegro ma non tanto.” Even when they slow down the additional amount of detail and information they invest yields tremendous results in experiencing individual events within a compelling sense of the whole.

The neutral, honest sound suits the performers and the performances and even seems to take on their characteristics. Wu Han’s piano in her Bach French Suite, for example, sounds totally ravishing. The sound of the strings is also outstanding; you can hear the bite of bow on string whenever the musicians want you to, and it always sounds satisfyingly, subtly crunchy.

The set ends on Disc 8 with a brave, devastating reading of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73. Jorja Fleezanis, Mark Holloway, Laurence Lesser and Arnaud Sussmann, a reality check about the real world, and a reminder of how precious imaginary worlds like music will always be.

—Laurence Vittes

Tracklist:

1:

BACH Concerto for Two Pianos in C Major, BWV 1061. Gloria Chen and Derek Han, pianos, and friends.

SCHUBERT Rondo in A Major for Piano, Four Hands, op. 107, D. 951. Derek Han and Hyeyeon Park

SCHUMANN Andante and Variations for Two Pianos, Two Cellos, and Horn, op. 46. Gloria Chien, Piano. David Finckel, Cello. Derek Han, Piano. Laurence Lesser, Cello. Kevin Rivard, Horn.

BARTOK Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, BB 115. Christopher Froh, Percussion. Gilbert Kalish, Piano. Ian Rosenbaum, Percussion. Wu Han, Piano.

2:

SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Quintet in g minor, op. 57. Danish String Quartet, Gilbert Kalish, Piano

SCHUBERT Rondo in A Major for Violin and String Quartet, D. 438. Sean Lee, Benjamin Beilman, David Finckel, Cello Jorja Fleezanis, Violin Sean Lee, Violin Richard O’Neill, Viola

CESAR FRANCK Piano Quintet. David Finckel, Cello Richard O’Neill, Viola Arnaud Sussmann, Violin Ian Swensen, Violin Gilles Vonsattel, Piano

3:

BACH Concerto for Violin and Oboe in c minor, BWV 1060. Dmitri Atapine, Cello Benjamin Beilman, Violin Kristin Lee, Violin Richard O’Neill, Viola Hyeyeon Park, Harpsichord Scott Pingel, Double Bass James Austin Smith, Oboe Arnaud Sussmann, Violin David Finckel, Cello Jorja Fleezanis, Violin Gilbert Kalish, Piano Richard O’Neill, Viola Scott Pingel, Double Bass Arnaud Sussmann, Violin

MOZART Piano Concerto no. 12 in A Major, K. 414. Gilbert Kalish, Piano, and friends.

MENDELSSOHN Double Concerto in d minor for Violin, Piano, and Strings. Dmitri Atapine, Cello Benjamin Beilman, Violin Sunmi Chang, Violin Kristin Lee, Violin Richard O’Neill, Viola Scott Pingel, Double Bass Wu Han, Piano

4:

BACH Selections from The Well-Tempered Clavier. Gilles Vonsattel, Piano

HAYDN String Quartet in f minor, op. 20, no. 5. Danish String Quartet

MENDELSSOHN Capriccio in e minor, op. 81, no. 3. Danish String Quartet

GERSHWIN Three Preludes for Violin and Piano (trans. Heifetz) Ian Swensen, Violin Gilles Vonsattel, Piano

SHOSTAKOVICH Prelude and Fugue no. 4 in e minor, op. 87. Gilles Vonsattel, Piano

BRITTEN Prelude and Fugue for Eighteen Strings, op. 29  Colin Carr, Cello Charles Chandler, Double Bass Sunmi Chang, Violin Jorja Fleezanis, Violin Mark Holloway, Viola Nicole Jeong, Violin Kristin Lee, Violin Sean Lee, Violin Laurence Lesser, Cello Paul Neubauer, Viola Asbjørn Nørgaard, Viola Regi Papa, Violin Scott Pingel, Double Bass Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin, Cello Arnaud Sussmann, Violin Ian Swensen, Violin Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, Violin Frederik Øland, Violin

5:

BRAHMS Piano Trio no. 3 in c minor, op. 101. Carter Brey, Cello Jeffrey Kahane, Piano Joseph Swensen, Violin

MOZART Divertimento in E-flat Major, K. 563. Colin Carr, Cello Paul Neubauer, Viola Arnaud Sussmann, Violin

6:

BACH French Suite no. 5 for Solo Piano, BWV 816. Wu Han, Piano

SAINT-SAENS Wu Han, Piano  Fantaisie in A Major for Violin and Harp, op. 124. Bridget Kibbey, Harp Kristin Lee, Violin

DEBUSSY Selections from Préludes, Book 1 | Claude Debussy (10:44)   Gilles Vonsattel, Piano

DEBUSSY Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. Bridget Kibbey, Harp Paul Neubauer, Viola Tara Helen O’Connor, Flute

MARCEL TOURNIER Suite for Flute, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Harp, op. 34. Dmitri Atapine, Cello Bridget Kibbey, Harp Kristin Lee, Violin Paul Neubauer, Viola Tara Helen O’Connor, Flute

7:

BACH-MOZART Selections from The Well-Tempered Clavier (arr. String Quartet). Danish String Quartet

HAYDN String Quartet in d minor, op. 76, no. 2. Danish String Quartet

BEETHOVEN String Quartet no. 15 in a minor, op. 132. Danish String Quartet

8:

BACH Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048. Dmitri Atapine, Cello Colin Carr, Cello Mark Holloway, Viola Soovin Kim, Violin Kristin Lee, Violin Laurence Lesser, Cello Paul Neubauer, Viola Asbjørn Nørgaard, Viola Wu Han, Harpsichord Frederik Øland, Violin

MOZART Adagio and Fugue in c minor, K. 546. Danish String Quartet

RICHARD STRAUSS String Sextet from Capriccio, op. 85. Mark Holloway, Viola Soovin Kim, Violin Sean Lee, Violin Laurence Lesser, Cello Paul Neubauer, Viola Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin, Cello

SHOSTAKOVICH String Quartet no. 3 in F Major, op. 73. Jorja Fleezanis, Violin Mark Holloway, Viola Laurence Lesser, Cello Arnaud Sussmann, Violin

—Laurence Vittes

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