Review of October 2016 Beethoven Concert by D. S. Crafts
for the Journal
Beethoven, early and late. That was the theme of the concert that opened the season for the Albuquerque Chamber Soloists on Sunday afternoon. Not only did it provide glorious music but a chance to show the radical development of the composer. One has to look to Wagner or the painter JMW Turner to find such a dramatic transformation in continuous development over the course of a lifetime.
Two works were paired to show the quite amazing progression in style from Beethoven's early works to his final efforts in composition. The Septet for Winds and Strings Op. 20 is gregariously outgoing and spirited and gained immediate audience appeal when the young Beethoven was in the process of making his reputation. The String Quartet No. 14 Op. 131 could not be more different, full of introspection, even meditative transcendence.
When the Septet was first performed, Beethoven was enormously proud of it, and justly so. But it became so popular that he later tried to renounce it, even passing it off as a work of Mozart(!) A light-hearted collection of pieces in the style of the Rococo divertimento, its six movements are at heart cheerful and optimistic in character--and this despite Beethoven knowing he was now going deaf.
The ensemble consisted of four stringed instruments and three winds allowing colorful scoring in each of its movements. The slow thoughtful Adagio of the first movement was quickly overtaken by the rambunctiousness of the Allegro con brio. The Tempo di Menuetto & Trio is essentially the same music as the second movement of the Piano Sonata Op. 49 No. 2 for those who may have played that work. Nathan Uken's[cq] French horn made itself particularly prominent in the Scherzo followed by a beautiful melody in the cello from James Holland[cq]. The final two movements featured solos from violinist David Felberg[cq].
The only sense of sadness to be found in the work came at the beginning of the final movement, but succeeded by the playful, ebullient major-key theme, did nothing to damper the overall joyous mood.
After the break Holland announced that the performance of the String Quartet would be dedicated to the memory of Eric Walters who passed away earlier in the year. Long an important member of the musical community here, Walters was one of the co-founders of the Chatter music series. There could have been no more fitting tribute to the man than this work in c-sharp minor.
Op. 131 constitutes an exceptional challenge even for an established quartet, and was particularly impressive for the ad hoc group of players here. This complex work is filled with sudden shifts in mood and tempo and many performances strongly emphasize those changes of musical gears. This ensemble, however, chose to present the piece more in the way of an organic development beginning with the ethereal almost hymn-like Adagio, a systematic descent of tension and resolution in a reverent sadness, unmistakable in this performance, advancing gradually in tone toward a fiery Allegro which featured the most impassioned playing of the afternoon at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
March 17, 2014 Concert closes chamber soloists season By D.S. Crafts For the Journal- online
Burgers were on the menu at the St. Paul Lutheran Church last Sunday afternoon. That is to say, musical works by Mozart of Salzburg, Mendelssohn of Hamburg and Tchaikovsky of St. Petersburg. This was the final concert of the season for the Albuquerque Chamber Soloists, entitled “White Nights & Sun-Filled Days.”
The afternoon began with the first of the so-called Prussian quartets (K. 575), the first of three Mozart wrote for the King of Prussia, reportedly at least a reasonably good cellist. Hence the cello is given a more than usual prominence and some good tunes, featuring cellist James Holland, particularly in the second and fourth movements, often rising even above the first violin. An elegant Allegro set the tone for this music for a king.
Megan Holland, second violin in the Mozart, returned with pianist Arlette Felberg for the Violin Sonata in F of Mendelssohn. Holland’s tone was rich and robust in the opening Allegro. The Adagio was a centerpiece of grace and sensitivity which clearly distinguishes the Romantic from the Classical style. Perfectly played, the final Assai vivace employs Mendelssohn’s characteristic feather-stitching, rapid but light passage-work, creating that sense of dancing fairies. The performance demonstrated admirable partnership between soloist and strong accompaniment.
The Tchaikovsky Trio began something of a macabre tradition in Russia of Piano Trios written as memorial tributes (Rachmaninoff’s, ironically, was to Tchaikovsky himself). The present Trio commemorates the composer’s friend, pianist and composer Nikolai Rubinstein. And as a further tribute, Felberg dedicated the performance to her former chamber music professor, the great cellist Janos Starker.
Despite the number of players, the work is written on a huge musical canvas with a duration of just under an hour. In two long movements its style is highly unorthodox. Much of it was given a near-orchestral scope in this performance with Felberg deftly performing the piano part teeming with challenges and full-blooded writing. James Holland, cello, and David Felberg, violin, comprised the other two parts of the trio.
Contemplative gravity and intensity of emotion was unmistakable in the first of the two movements, even if the circumstances of its composition were unknown. Yet frequent changes in tempo and mood mark it as an artistic expression of the highest quality. Played with a feverish lyricism mixed with introspection, this is music in which one can lose one’s self.
With a clear sense of unity the group traversed the second movement, a theme with extensive variations including scherzo, waltz and fugue. The final variation being almost a movement in itself, is often listed separately, and grandly elaborates the opening minor-key theme.
With this concert, artistic director Arlette Felberg, who founded the organization nearly 24 years ago, steps down from that post. I’m sure it is everyone’s hope she continues to perform.
Friday, January 27, 2012 Chamber Soloists a Perennial Cause for Celebration By D.S. Crafts For the Journal
The concert we’ve come to know as Figueroas, Felbergs & Friends has now come of age. Authorized this year with the Roman numeral VIII, this presentation of the Albuquerque Chamber Soloists is perennially a most welcome musical event, as a capacity crowd at St. Paul Lutheran Church gave testimony on Sunday afternoon. The Felbergs, David and Arlette, began the afternoon with Bach’s Sonata in E Major for Violin. David began the opening Adagio with a clear, full tone as violin pits itself against two voices in the piano (originally harpsichord), combining rational fugal energy with an intimate, even personal expression. The gorgeous Adagio, ma non tanto, was conceived in the compositional vein which reached its zenith in the composer’s “Erbarme dich” from the “St. Matthew Passion.” The two Allegro movements sparkled with interweaving of voices and superb playing throughout……Beethoven… Piano Trio, Opus 70, No. 1, which is nicknamed “Ghost.”…..Violinist Guillermo Figueroa and cellist Dana Winograd joined Arlette Felberg for as swift a reading of the opening Allegro as I’ve ever heard. The opening unisons flew off the instruments, setting the pace for a thoroughly invigorated movement. In the final Presto movement imitation of phrases were gauged perfectly.
…... Max Bruch …His Octet in B-flat major ….The full complement of strings, including double bass, played the piece for the opulent Romanticism that it is, eliciting a rich blend of string sonority coupled with the fulgent musical camaraderie that is the hallmark of these ACS concerts.
Saturday, January 15, 2011 Felberg/Figueroa combination an Irresistible Force D.S. Crafts For the Journal
The secret is out, if it ever was a secret. As the capacity house at St. Paul Lutheran Church testified, when the Felberg and Figueroa families join forces in an Albuquerque Chamber Soloists concert, one is assured of music making at the highest level. Sunday's concert brought together some of Albuquerque's finest musicians for music by Schubert, Strauss and Dvorák. The nine musicians taking part in the concert played musical chairs throughout the afternoon, recombining in new arrangements for each piece, David Felberg even changing instruments — viola to violin.
Schubert undoubtedly wrote the best "unfinished" works of any composer. As with the "Unfinished" Symphony, the Quartettsatz (Quartet Piece) offers some stunning music. But here there is only one movement. Nothing is unfinished about this piece in itself, only that it was intended as part of a larger work. This beautiful though isolated movement began the program. Metamorphosen for String Septet is among the last works written by Richard Strauss. The individual lines wind in and about, over and under each other like a never-ending snake or rather a septet of snakes. While that metaphor may convey the formal proportions of the work, it fails to describe the beauty of the harmonies when the long polyphonic lines are combined vertically.
However, the work is short only on contrast. With a playing time of nearly half an hour, I have always felt it too long by half. One has the feeling of strolling through an endless field of flowers. The seven players are engaged almost continuously with only some minor respites for the two violins, creating a similarity of texture throughout. One need only compare it to the Barber Adagio (played on the last ACS concert) in a similar aesthetic vein. Barber's work is far more effective in far less time. The performance, with Guillermo Figueroa as first violin (and most likely as de facto conductor), cast the work in the best possible light and emphasized as much as possible what dissimilarities exist. Whatever misgivings one may have about the work, this rendition was expertly wrought.
Dvorák's Piano Quintet, Opus 81, filled the second half. This is a work fundamentally of contrast. The first two movements are expansive, well over 10 minutes each. The ensemble began the Allegro quite slowly, then charged into the second theme, as though to magnify the disparity of tempos already in the score. Color and dynamic shifts were abundant throughout the movement. The main theme of the Dumka movement was made into a popular song in the '40s. The song garnered dubious acclaim, while this movement remains among Dvorák's most praised. Here it began in an almost melancholy temperament, then shifted gears several times, spinning out luxuriously and thoughtfully sculpted. The Scherzo (Furiant) was full of playfulness and a romping gaiety as the pathos of the Dumka turns to jocosity. The Finale, a characteristic example of Dvorák's folklike lyricism, was jaunty and brusque as a ride through the Bohemian countryside.