Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Episcopal High School sponsors chamber music concert of unusual Schubert, Brahms; did Schubert write a concerto?; a note on musicians' hearing

Last night (Oct. 4), the Episcopal High School in Alexandria VA presented the National Chamber Players in a free concert preceded by a reception. Here is the basic link for the event.

The high school is a large (private, parochial) boarding school at Braddock Road and Quaker Lane in Alexandria, with a huge campus; some professors actually live on campus.   (I noticed an HRC blue-yellow equality sticker on the sill of a doorway to a nearby dorm, very visible from the sidewalk.)  The Reception was in an area with a small museum and a convincing exhibition of the arts education at the school. 

There were two works. The first was the Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano, D. 821, “transcribed” for cello and piano, played by James Lee, cellist, and Robert De Silva.  The arpeggione was a hybrid of cello and guitar, used in the early 19th Century.  The three-movement work sounded very low key, compared to the grandeur of some of Schubert’s later chamber works. I had trouble telling where the “slow movement” ended and the finale (Allegretto) started – the finale sounded like it was taking off as a variation of the slow movement. The final chords died away, which sometimes happens in conducting Schubert’s symphonies (even the C Major), but I do not like the effect.  (Yes, it naturally happens if you hit a fortissimo chord on the piano and hold it.)

The Sonata is sometimes transcribed as a “concerto”, even though it is said that Schubert wrote no concerti. But even that isn’t quite true. There is a violin Concertino, D. 345, 11 minutes, and a 2001 New York Times letter in 2001 mentions it (played by the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston).  There is a YouTube link by “gfisg”, link here (two parts).  A Teldec CD is shown, which I couldn’t find on Amazon now.

The second part of the program (no intermission) was the Piano Quartet #3 in C Minor, Op. 60, by Johannes Brahms (not to be confused with a similar-sounding  C Minor string quartet which I do have on Teldec). Brahms supposedly composed this when infatuated with Clara Schumann, about the time of Robert’s tragic demise in a mental institution. The work is dark and dense. The first movement is epic, the second is a brief scherzo with temporary triumph, the andante has a famous melody, and the finale is marked “Allegro commodo” (comfortable), and unusual marking (I used it in my own second sonata in the first movement), but becomes triumphant, holding the listener in his seat for the “ending”.  I’ll give the spoiler. The work starts to die away, before two final C Major fortissimo chords (the supposed "Picardy Third", as explained in Wikipedia here as "tierce de picardie"; the string quartet does not use this device at the end.) Brahms apparently wrote this work shortly before tackling his triumphant Symphony #1 in C Minor, with the famous finale. 

Benny Kim and Abigail Evans joined as violins. 


Here is an important sidebar from p E3 of the Washington Post Tuesday Oct. 4, by Linda Searing, a column called “Quick Study”. Link. I’ve reported before my concerns about possible hearing loss of musicians whone perform and are exposed to nearby instruments, but a recent study suggested that musicians have a superior ability to understand speech in a noisy background environment. See earlier posting Sept. 17, 2008.

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