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Music@Menlo - Maps and Legends 1-8
rec. St Mark’s Episcopal Church, Palo Alto, CA, Centre for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton, CA, 2002-2010
Full contents list at end of review
MUSIC@MENLO No catalogue number [8 CDs: 588:45]

Experience Classicsonline


Music@Menlo - or Music at Menlo in English - is a chamber festival with a strong educative base, first held in 2002 and still going strong. It popularises its wares by producing CDs of the performances and we have here 8 discs from the festival held in July and August 2010. The discs are available individually, and my review copies came in a little slipcase, which I assume is available if you buy all eight. The generic title for this series of discs is ‘Maps and Legends’. It sounds a bit sword and sorcery to me, so I don’t think we need to worry too much about it. All the discs have full notes. There is no skimping on production values.
 
If you want to know the kind of the thing the festival does, try the first disc which juxtaposes Vivaldi’s Four Seasons - with four different soloists - with George Crumb’s Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III). This is a pairing that has never occurred to anyone before, and no wonder. We have the novelty of four fine violin guides - among them Ani Kavafian, though it’s probably invidious to nominate one in particular - and a small, baroque-sized accompanying band; 3-2-2-1 and harpsichord. Crumb’s piece was written for, and dedicated to, Gilbert Kalish, James Freeman, Raymond DesRoches and Richard Fitz back in 1974. Kalish himself is present in this 2010 performance alongside younger colleagues, and he helps guide the atmospheric intensity of the five movements which reach an apotheosis in the long last movement - intense, controlled and compellingly hypnotic.
 
The second disc is an all-British affair. Sasha Cooke and Inon Barnatan perform Britten’s A Charm of Lullabies with commendable directness and assertion. Walton’s early, and subsequently revised, Piano Quartet receives a strong and convincing reading - very well characterised and full of feeling in the slow movement. Elgar’s Piano Quintet (Miró Quartet with Barnatan again) is somewhat less successful, but partly it’s because it’s a more ambiguous work, and some overwrought string phrasing doesn’t really help. The third disc includes a rather charmingly played Haydn Keyboard Concertino - well and naturally balanced into the bargain. Beethoven’s Op.95 Quartet is played by the Miró. The church echo is noticeable here at points. This group has made a well regarded recording of the Op.18 set, but I found this Serioso performance too belligerent sounding. To finish there’s a warm hearted reading of Brahms’s second Sextet, with Ralph Kirshbaum and David Finckel as cellists.
 
The fourth disc offers some unremitting challenges. I like the Miró more in Shostakovich than in Beethoven. Their view of the Eighth Quartet inclines rather more to the tensile approach of the Taneyev than to the rather plusher (1978) Borodin reading. There’s an imaginatively voiced Prokofiev Quintet and the Schoenberg Chamber Symphony heard in its Webern reduction for five instruments. The fifth disc is Franco-American (Paris in the 20s is the key on which some of it hangs) and the most varied of the eight. We hear Milhaud’s chamber arrangement of La création du monde which gains in clarity what it loses in atmosphere. Copland’s Movement for string quartet was written almost at the same time as the Milhaud - an early work notable for a tersely driving central section. The “Cubist Tin Pan Alley” hijinks of Antheil’s Second Violin Sonata make for great listening, and include ragtime piano and barnyard fiddle into the bargain - Fleezanis and Bax play this with great commitment. There’s an enjoyable Poulenc Clarinet and Bassoon sonata, three well chosen William Bolcom songs and to finish Gershwin’s two piano version of An American in Paris.
 
There’s more French music in the sixth disc. Ravel’s Trio is played by Alessio Bax, Arnaud Sussmann and Laurence Lesser in a moodily effective reading. The Jupiter Quartet play the Debussy impressively and they evoke Turina’s Francophone leanings in La Oracíon del terero. The seventh disc is dominated by Dvořák. The Jupiter play the inevitable American, though it’s rather devitalised and a touch mannered and lingering. A mixed group tackles the op.97 Quintet well enough. Appropriately there are some Henry T.. Burleigh songs - Burleigh being a famous pupil of the Czech composer - and Sasha Cooke and pianist Wu Han also take on Barber’s Op.13 Songs, and well too. She’s a fine singer, one very much worth hearing. There’s a surprise waiting in the final disc, as it’s devoted entirely to a single recital by one artist, the pianist Juho Pohjonen. His programme is textually well constructed, sometimes surprisingly so (he ends with a piece by Couperin, for instance). He plays a familiar Mozart sonata, plays the Grieg Ballade impressively - it’s very difficult to bring off successfully - backtracks for a Handel Suite, but for a reason, as it includes the theme used by Brahms for his Variations and fugue on a theme by Handel - which he plays with authority. Each variation is separately tracked.
 
One thing that you will notice is the applause. If Henry I was done in by a surfeit of lampreys, I was often done in by a surfeit of whooping and whistling. I could have done without all applause, I have to say, especially when it’s unrestrained and, really, for listening purposes, pointless. And obviously a recommendation is hardly possible given the nature of the festival and its varied programmes. But if you were to ask me which disc I liked the most, I’d have to say the fifth.
 
Jonathan Woolf 
 
Full contents 
Music@Menlo - Maps and Legends 1-8
CD 1 [76:32]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons (1723) [40:51]
Inon Barnatan, Harpsichord: Timothy Braun, Violin: Gabriel Cabezas, Cello: Molly Carr, Viola: Daniel Ching, Violin: Joshua Gindele, Cello: Ani Kavafian, Violin: Erin Keefe, Violin: John Largess, Viola:Scott Pingel, Double Bass: Philip Setzer, Violin:
Ian Swensen, Violin: Sandy Yamamoto, Violin
George CRUMB (b.1929)
Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III) (1974) [35:02]
Christopher Froh, Percussion: Gilbert Kalish, Piano: Ayano Kataoka, Percussion
Wu Han, Piano
CD 2 [78:53]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
A Charm of Lullabies, op. 41 (1947) [14:12]
Inon Barnatan, Piano: Sasha Cooke, Soprano:
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Piano Quartet (1918-1921, revised 1955, 1974-1975) [29:12]
David Finckel, Cello: Lily Francis, Viola: Ani Kavafian, Violin: Wu Han, Piano
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Piano Quintet in a minor, op. 84 (1918-1919) [35:07]
Inon Barnatan, Piano: Miró Quartet
CD 3 [71:33]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Keyboard Concertino in C Major, Hob. XIV: 11 (1760) [9:56]
David Finckel, Cello
Jorja Fleezanis, Violin
Erin Keefe, Violin
Wu Han, Piano
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1828)
String Quartet in f minor, op. 59, Serioso (1810-1811) [21:14]
Miró Quartet
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sextet no. 2 in G Major, op. 36 (1864-1865) [40:02]
David Finckel, Cello: Jorja Fleezanis, Violin: Lily Francis, Viola: Erin Keefe, Violin
Ralph Kirshbaum, Cello:John Largess, Viola
CD 4 [62:07]
Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
String Quartet no. 8 in c minor, op. 110 (1960) [20:07]
Miró Quartet
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Quintet in g minor, op. 39 (1924) [20:23]
Jonathan Fischer, Oboe: Beth Guterman, Viola: Erin Keefe, Violin: Todd Palmer, Clarinet: Scott Pingel, Double Bass
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Chamber Symphony no. 1, op. 9 (1922; arr Webern, 1922-1923) [21:15]
Lily Francis, Violin: Joshua Gindele, Cello: Gilbert Kalish, Piano: Tara Helen O’Connor, Flute:: Todd Palmer, Clarinet
CD 5 [78:52]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
La création du monde, op. 81 (1923) [31:09]
Jupiter String Quartet: Wu Han, Piano
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Movement for String Quartet (ca. 1923) [6:13]
Jupiter String Quartet
George ANTHEIL (1900-1959)
Violin Sonata no. 2 (1923) [8:05]
Alessio Bax, Piano: Jorja Fleezanis, Violin
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Barcarolle no. 13 in C Major, op. 116 (1921) [4:30[
Alessio Bax, Piano:
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré (1922) [2:39]
Alessio Bax, Piano: Erin Keefe, Violin
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon, op. 32 (1922) [7:45]
Dennis Godburn, Bassoon: Todd Palmer, Clarinet
William BOLCOM (b.1938)
“Amor”: “Blue”: “Song of Black Max” [10:16]
Sasha Cooke, Soprano: Wu Han, Piano
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
An American in Paris (1928) [22:25]
Ken Noda, Piano: Wu Han, Piano
CD 6 [62:40]
Maurice RAVEL
Piano Trio (1914) [27:15]
Alessio Bax, Piano: Laurence Lesser, Cello: Arnaud Sussmann, Violin
Joaquín TURINA (1882-1949)
La oración del torero (1925) [8:45]
Jupiter String Quartet
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
String Quartet in g minor, op. 10 (1893) |26:21]
Jupiter String Quartet
CD 7 [78:34]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet no. 12 in F Major, op. 96, American (1893) [28:23]
Jupiter String Quartet
Henry T. BURLEIGH (1866-1949)
“By an’ By”: “Deep River”: “Wade in de Water” [6:26]
Sasha Cooke, Soprano: Wu Han, Piano
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Four Songs, op. 13 (1940) [9:25]
Sasha Cooke, Soprano: Wu Han, Piano
Antonín DVOŘÁK
Quintet for Two Violins, Two Violas, and Cello in E-flat Major, op. 97, American (1893) [33:55]
Arnaud Sussmann, Violin: Liz Freivogel, Viola: Beth Guterman, Viola: Erin Keefe, Violin: Laurence Lesser, Cello
CD 8 [79:34]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata in A Major, K. 331 (1781-1783) [22:56]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Ballade in g minor in the Form of Variations on a Norwegian Folk Song, op. 24 (1875-1876) [16:44]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Suite in B-flat Major, vol. 2, no. 1, HWV 434 (1733) [7:21]
Johannes BRAHMS
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, op. 24 (1861) [25:30]
Edvard GRIEG
Til våren (To Spring), op. 43, no. 6 (1886) [2:30]  
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Ordre 27ème de clavecin in b minor: L’exquise (1728) [4:06]
Juho Pohjonen, Piano
rec, at St Mark’s Episcopal Church, Palo Alto, CA and the Centre for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton, CA, July-August 2010

 


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