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Haydn in Plain Sight: Violinist Ian Swensen, pianist Derek Han and cellist David Finckel performed Haydn's Piano Trio in E for Music@Menlo opening weekend.

Talent Pool

Music@Menlo's opening concert showed off the chamber-music festival's deep bench

By Scott MacClelland

THREE chamber music rarities launched the third annual Music@Menlo festival. Heard last Saturday at Palo Alto's St. Mark's Church, they included one of Haydn's 43 piano trios, Mozart's mischievous Horn Quintet, K. 407 and the Septet in E-flat for winds and strings that Beethoven wrote while working on his First Symphony.

In addition to showing off Music@Menlo's incredible stable of talent—this year introducing the venerable violinist Joseph Silverstein and the awesome hornist William VerMeulen—the program previewed the festival's focus on Beethoven's chamber music, featuring the composer's 16 string quartets, that spinal column of classical chamber music that links the form's emergence in 18th-century Austria to the newest vintages to be uncorked on Aug. 7 by the Kronos Quartet at the Cabrillo Festival in Santa Cruz.

Beethoven was quite pleased with his septet at first, but as he actually became the "great mogul"—the moniker scornfully affixed by the much older Haydn—he grew to disdain it as beneath him. Light as it may be by Beethoven standards, it purports much charm—and no small technical challenge to its players. (It also served to inspire the younger Schubert's Octet for Winds and Strings, without apologies.)

In the church acoustics, the reading soared and swelled from the start, the colorful play of wind sonorities answered by the string ensemble. From the top down, clarinetist Anthony McGill was joined by hornist VerMeulen and bassoonist Dennis Godburn. Silverstein, long-time concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, led the strings, including violist Geraldine Walther, cellist Ronald Thomas and contrabassist Charles Chandler. The work's six movements, themselves modeled on Mozart divertimenti, included an adagio with a floating clarinet cantabile, a menuetto with all the countrified pleasure of an Austrian laendler (not least for the play of horn and clarinet in the trio) and a theme with five variations and coda. The finale sported a large development section.

The concert opened with Haydn's Piano Trio in E, H. 28, of 1795, with pianist Derek Han, violinist Ian Swensen and cellist David Finckel. (As with each other piece, the musicians had tuned up before taking the stage.) Even though a relatively late piece, it contains several passages where the violin and cello double the keyboard, and its finale recalls the composer's earlier "Sturm und Drang" dramatic style. The middle movement featured a lengthy two-part Bach-like keyboard counterpoint, a haunting melody in the right hand above a walking bass later picked up by the strings, and later still the cello doubling the pianist's right hand.

The dedication of the horn quintet reads "Wolfgang Amade Mozart takes pity on Leutgeb, ass, ox and fool, at Vienna, 27 March, 1783." The subject of Mozart's meanness, Leutgeb, played on a natural horn, while VerMeulen had the benefit of valves. VerMeulen also happens to sport a fabulous embouchure and sweet tone; he made everything sound easy. Just before the end of the finale, he improvised a flamboyant cadenza, all show-off coloratura. Joining him were Silverstein, Walther, Swensen (this time on viola) and Thomas.


Music@Menlo runs through Aug. 12 with concerts, master classes and preludes daily at the Menlo School, Stent Family Hall and St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Palo Alto. See www.musicatmenlo.org for schedule details and ticket info.


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From the August 3-9, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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