24th Season, 2017
West Coast Chamber Music
Join us for 4 Sunday afternoon concerts @ 4:00 p.m.:
January 22, February 12, March 12, April 2
Unitarian Church of Vancouver
949 West 49th Avenue
Vancouver, British Columbia
Photo: West Coast Chamber Music artists’ friendly commentary with the audience is always well appreciated.
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Scherzo movement from the Schumann Piano Quintet in Eb
Recorded at the January 23, 2011 performance
Through the Centuries
Sunday January 22 @ 4:00
Piano Quartet in Eb, K.493 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Fantasy Pieces, Op.73 for cello and piano by Robert Schumann
Piano Quintet in A minor, Op.84 by Edward Elgar
Piano Quartet in Eb, K.493 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
In 1785, the publisher Franz Hoffmeister commissioned three piano quartets from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. After he wrote his first piano quartet in G minor, Hoffmeister deemed it too difficult to play and to listen to, and so released Mozart from the commission, but allowed him to keep his little bit of advance money! Nonetheless, less than a year later, Mozart wrote the Piano Quartet in Eb, K.493 finishing it on June 3, 1786. Both quartets are masterpieces. History has certainly proven Hoffmeister’s profound miscalculation.
The work exhibits a superb balance of parts, great delicacy and fine sensibility. The mood is bright and warm throughout with a generous sense of collegiality. There is much call and response and overlapping amongst the parts, and the viola, a string instrument Mozart particularly favoured, is brought more into the conversation. The first movement, Allegro, is written in sonata form with lyrical themes that undergo darker colouring and contrapuntal texturing in the development section as it travels through quick key changes. The Larghetto opens with a tender song heard on the piano, a melody which could have been an Aria in one of his operas. The warm intensity of the music is enhanced with the chromaticism of the melodic lines and the florid filigree of the piano harmonies. The third movement, Allegretto, is written in Rondo form with a recurring main theme first introduced by the piano that bursts with lyricism and good humour. Mozart has the piano counter the strings in a well matched partnership throughout, and indulges the piano score with virtuosic passages of scales and broken chord configurations. This piece remains one of the most well-loved piano quartets of all time, as well as one of the first of its kind, providing a model for future generations of composers.
Fantasy Pieces, Op.73 for cello and piano by Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann wrote the Fantasiestucke, Op.73 in 1849, just after he had to flee Dresden with Clara during a time of great political upheaval that led to the uprising. Yet from their refuge in the countryside, one hears nothing of this turmoil in the music. He wrote the pieces in just a few days in February of that year originally calling them “Night pieces” before settling on “Fantasy pieces.” This title was common in the 19th Century, and one which Schumann particularly favoured in his writing as it allowed his extremely fertile imagination to roam freely. Each piece is a three part form (ABA) and all three pieces work together to form a unit, each one linked by the piano triplet rhythms and melodic ideas, with varying emotional intensities.
The first piece is marked, Zart und mit Ausdruck (Delicate and with expression), and flows with undulating emotion in a minor key, yet brightening to a major tonality at the end. The second piece is marked, Lebhaft, leicht (Animated, light) and it shines in a more light hearted and playful light than the pieces that surround it. The third piece marked, Rasch und mit Feuer (Fast and with fire) is a continually impassioned out pouring of emotion culminating in a frenzied conclusion.
Piano Quintet in A minor, Op.84 by Edward Elgar
Sir Edward Elgar was an English composer, largely self-taught, quite introspective with a solitary disposition. Despite living well into the 20th Century, his music remained firmly rooted in 19th Century Romanticism, yet with a forward outlook. He became famous for his Enigma Variations and Pomp and Circumstance Marches and other symphonic, choral and chamber music. He owed much of his success to his beloved wife Alice who supported him both musically and socially and acted quite capably as his business manager. Near the end of the Great War, Elgar suffered ill health, so in 1917, Alice rented a cottage named “Brinkwells” in West Sussex to escape London life and enjoy some peace and quiet. Here he composed much chamber music including the Piano Quintet, Op.84 in 1918-19. Alice wrote in her diary, “E. writing wonderful new music.”
Now there grew near Brinkwells a group of dead twisted trees that local legend (of uncertain origin) stated were “Spanish monks struck dead by lightening while performing impious rites.” Musical reference to this legend is said to exist in his quintet, and indeed Alice claimed in her diary that the music was at times the voice of the monks, “sad and sinister, that wailed for their sins.” Certainly the opening of the first movement, Moderato-Allegro, is stark and sinister, slow octaves in the piano punctuated by the strings and followed by their melancholic chromatic response. The musical energy galvanizes to a noble march. The second subject played by the strings in 3rds is like a Spanish romantic dance, and the movement later ends as it began. The second movement, Adagio, offers princely rich and sonorous harmonies with a glorious climax. The third movement, Andante-Allegro, is vigorous and stalwart and explores the full scope of sound and texture that the five instruments can provide. Ghostly echoes of the piece’s eerie opening are recalled in the middle, before the music again rallies to a rousing conclusion.
From Spanish Hearts
Sunday February 12 @ 4:00
Circulo Fantasia for Piano Trio, Op.91 by Joaquin Turina
Piano Trio, Op.50 by Enrique Granados
The Four Seasons of Buenos Aries Piano Trio by Astor Piazzolla
In time for Valentine’s Day, this program has a Spanish folk flare and comes straight from the heart.
Círculo – Fantasia for Piano Trio, Op.91
Joaquín Turina (1882-1949)
- Amanecer (Dawn)
- Mediodía (Midday)
- Crepúsculo (Dusk)
Círculo – Fantasia for Piano Trio was written by Joaquín Turina in 1936 and published in 1942. It is a tremendously evocative work and exploits the freedom of the fantasy using a theme which recurs and evolves throughout the work. The Amanecer slowly unfolds with an opening employing the cello’s lowest notes before the violin’s entry. What follows is a gradual emergence of sound and thickening texture, with the violin eventually attaining its upper reaches underscored by arpeggiated piano writing. At this point, we almost see the sun flooding the earth with light. The second movement, Mediodía, is a march-like Spanish dance first introduced on the piano with pizzicato in the strings. Its character belongs to broad daylight and is open and proud with gypsy-like sounds heard from the violin’s high register. The music later culminates into a dizzying climax before leading directly into the third movement, Crepúsculo. The music of twilight dissolves into peaceful tranquility, yet is laced with melancholy.
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, Op.50
Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
- Poco allegro con espressione
- Scherzetto – Vivace molto
- Duetto- Andante con molta espressione
- Finale- Allegro molto
Enrique Granados studied composition with Pedrell in Barcelona, and it was he who greatly encouraged Granados towards developing a nationalistic style. In 1887, Granados moved to Paris to study piano with Beriot, and a couple of years later began an illustrious touring performing career as a pianist. In this role, he was able to premiere and promote many of his own works. He wrote piano and vocal music, and some chamber music, and many of his piano pieces have been transcribed for guitar.
He completed his Piano Trio, Op.50 on January 2, 1894, and premiered it a year later in February of 1895 with himself at the piano, along with his lifelong friend Pablo Casals on cello. It was so enthusiastically received that they had to repeat two of its movements. The trio was not published until 1976 in Spain. He wrote in a letter to his wife, “It’s my best work to date.” The first movement, Poco allegro con espressione, is stirring and passionate with highly original castings of its themes. The second movement, Scherzetto – Andante con molta espressione, exhibits a joyous Mendelssohn-like fleetness in the piano writing punctuated by the strings’ pizzicato and offset by the smoothly flowing middle section. The third movement, Duetto – Andante con molta espressione, offers a beautiful and expressive melody played like a love duet between violin and cello. The Finale’s forthright and vigorous opening heralds a monumental movement of glorious, romantic expression. It quotes thematic excerpts from the first three movements so bringing the work full circle.
Estaciones Portenas or The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), arranged by José Bragato
- Primvera Portena (Buenos Aires Spring)
- Verano Porteno (Buenos Aries Summer)
- Otono Porteno (Buenos Aries Autumn)
- Invierno Porteno (Buenos Aries Winter)
Astor Piazzolla was an Argentine composer and virtuoso player of the bandoneon, and has been dubbed “the world’s foremost composer of tango music.” He single handedly forged a new style called “nuevo tango” which blended tango music with elements of Jazz, Classical and even counterpoint. He composed primarily for orchestra and film and some smaller ensembles re-working the tango into something all his own. As a young child, he spent hours listening to his father’s records of tango orchestras and to Jazz. In 1929, his father brought home a bandoneon he had bought in a pawn shop, a hugely popular instrument in that day, and Piazzolla’s fate was sealed. He learned to play it really well so that by the age of 17, he was easily accepted into the foremost tango orchestra of Buenos Aries as a bandoneonist. He eventually studied piano, classical music and then composition with Ginastera, and later on scholarship with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. It was she who convinced him not to abandon the bandoneon and tango music for that was his true voice.
The Four Seasons of Buenos Aries, written from 1965-70, was originally conceived as four separate compositions, though he sometimes performed them as a set. He wrote them for his own Quintet: violin, piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneon. Since then, it has been arranged for various groupings, and has become very popular in its Piano Trio form. It was the Russian arranger Desyatnikov who first juxtaposed the set with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and there is a faint echo of Vivaldi’s work in the last piece. “Porteno” is a Spanish word referring to one who is born in Buenos Aries, but these pieces don’t so much describe the season and weather of Buenos Aries, as much as it describes the emotional weather of the human condition. Each piece alternates fast tango dance sections, rhythmic and energetic, with slow heartfelt music where each of the three instruments take turns in the spotlight. A full emotional spectrum is explored, as the music passes through the pleasurable feelings of the dance, its exuberance, and joy, to those of loss, isolation, nostalgia to moments of great beauty, longing, desire and eroticism. Always sensual and highly charged, the music reveals every facet of love through the passage of time.
Flute, Strings and Piano Potpourri
Sunday March 12 @ 4:00
Piano Trio in Eb major, Op.1, No.1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Flute Trio in D, No.28 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Flute Trio by Christine Donkin
Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano by Bohuslav Martinu
Trio No. 28 for piano, flute and cello in D major
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
- Andantino piuttosto Allegretto
- Vivace assai
Haydn wrote his three flute trios in the spring of 1790 and actually had them printed with two different publishers who were both clamoring for his work. This was at the tail end of his 29 years of service to Prince Esterhazy who died in September of the same year. He served the prince as Kapellmeister (translate ‘Composer -In-Residence’) and though he lived with economic security and the enormous advantage of composing for a resident orchestra, yet because of the remote location of the castle in Hungary, he was isolated from his fellow composers and in his words, “forced to become original.”
This Trio in D for piano, flute and cello is the epitome of 18th Century grace and elegance, and is Haydn at his most eloquent self. We hear his reputed good nature in the exuberant and dramatic first movement, Allegro, his sheer grace in the second movement, Andantino piuttosto Allegretto, a continuously varying four bar Siciliana in the parallel minor key and his irresistible good cheer in the Vivace assai’s rondo theme. His originality emerges from sometimes surprising chord choices, meandering keys, rhythmic twists, and unexpected silences where he’s undoubtedly winking at his audience.
Trio for flute, cello and piano
Christine Donkin (b.1976)
Award winning Canadian composer Christine Donkin was raised in Alberta and studied composition at U. of A. and U.B.C., and currently resides in Ottawa. Her piano, choral, chamber and orchestral works are widely published and frequently performed in Canada and abroad. She has also composed numerous educational pieces, many of which appear in the Royal Conservatory publications.
The Trio for flute, cello and piano was written in 2012 and was both commissioned and premiered by the Trillium Ensemble in Ottawa. This beautiful work, impressionistic in style, is evocative, at times poignant, somehow sounding not quite of this world. Shifting chromatic harmonies will often contrast the barrenness of open 5ths and octaves, melodic fragments will interweave amongst the parts and varying textures rise and fall. The first movement, Cantabile, presents a lyrical intertwining of flute and cello melodies supported by gentle throbbing of piano harmonies. The second movement, Dream-like, is ethereal and approaches us eerily at the opening as if from far away and gradually builds to a profound climax before dying away from where it came. The third movement, Giocoso, offers sprightly rhythms, articulations, staccato and pizzicato touches that create a jocular mood, as if we are being entertained by the odd capers of a clown with a lop-sided grin. The fourth movement, Energico, opens with an upward sweep of the piano that launches a movement of widely varying textures and ideas that seem to collide and merge, bringing back motivic material from the second and third movement, and culminating in a rising surge of sound and texture.
Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano, H.254
Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959)
- Moderato poco allegro
Bohuslav Martinu was an extraordinary violinist as well as a very prolific Czech composer of modern classical music. He wrote symphonies and other orchestral works, operas, ballets and chamber music in mostly a neo-classical style, over 400 pieces in total! He was born and lived for the first 12 years of his life in the bell tower of St. Jakub’s church in Policka, Bohemia. The family had to climb 192 steps each day up to their small apartment situated above the bells. His father, also a shoemaker, rang and serviced the bells for the church. This living situation made a strong impression on Martinu as he felt removed from the world, and perhaps it fed his imagination.
He wrote the Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano in 1937 during his Paris years. Ringing bell-like effects surface throughout the work, and perhaps were never far from his consciousness. The first movement, Allegro, exhibits a lively forward moving energy, colourful with intriguing close flute and violin writing. The second movement, Adagio, is slow and somber, its taut lines a sparse tapestry of the three melodic strands. The third movement, Allegretto, is a scherzo and trio, the scherzo section, buoyant and rhythmic contrasting the longer and smoother lines of the flute and later the violin in the trio section. The fourth movement, Moderato poco allegro, is driving and compelling with tight short dialogue amongst the parts. A slower romantic episode for the flute creeps in before the music gathers again and is propelled to its conclusion.
Piano Trio in E flat, Op.1, No.1
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
- Adagio cantabile
- Scherzo-Allegro assai
Beethoven wrote his first three Piano Trios, Op.1, No.1, 2 and 3 from 1793-94, and he labored long over them, determined that his debut would create a stir (which it did). He chose the already popular piano trio medium to announce himself to the musical world. He performed them at the Palace before Prince Karl Lichnowsky, an early patron and to whom he dedicated these works. They were well received and impressed Haydn who was in attendance.
Even in his very first Piano Trio in E flat, Op.1, No.1, he is already pushing the bounds of convention. It is written in four movements, instead of the standard three, and on a more expansive scale than had been done before, in terms of length, thematic material, range, development of ideas and independence of parts. The end of first and last movement even has extensive Codas with further working out of the material. The first movement, Allegro, is lively and energetic with an initial theme that sprints out of the gate from the very first measure and contrasts well with its more lyrical second theme. The second movement, Adagio cantabile, presents a slow heartfelt melody exchanged amongst the instruments with an exquisite blend of harmonies. The third movement, Scherzo-Allegro assai, is a light jolly romp with its staccato touch and grace-notes, contrasting with the much softer and smoother Trio section. The 2-note opening motive of the fourth movement, Presto, is impish and Haydn-like and played with throughout the movement, that together with the carefree second theme present an exhilarating and rousing finale.
Masterpiece Piano Quartets
Sunday April 2 @ 4:00
Piano Quartet in A major, Op.26 by Johannes Brahms
Piano Quartet in C minor, Op.15 by Gabriel Faure
Piano Quartet in A major, Op.26
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
- Allegro non troppo
- Poco adagio
- Scherzo – Poco allegro
- Finale –Allegro
The late 1850’s was a time when Johannes Brahms made a focused study of Schubert’s chamber music, and his Piano Quartet in A major, written in 1861 is thought to be a result of that study. Its extended leisurely melodies and easy lyricism suggest this, yet it’s broadened to an almost symphonic scale. Despite this, there is the impression of not one wasted note! The piece was premiered in Vienna in November of 1863 with the Hellmesberger Quartet and Brahms at the piano. It became in his day, the most celebrated of his three piano quartets.
The opening theme of the first movement, Allegro non troppo, is presented simply and elegantly by a triplet idea in the piano part, soon answered by a flowing 8th note idea in the cello part, and then combined. Though a contrasting second theme of great warmth is later introduced, it is this first theme that is fully explored throughout the development section, travelling through the full emotional spectrum. The second movement, Poco adagio, was unofficially referred to as a ‘Night Piece’ by Brahms and does indeed exhibit a nocturnal mood with a perfectly crafted interweaving of sound, leisurely unfolding. Its opening melody, first introduced by the piano and accompanied by muted strings, is reminiscent of Schumannesque romantic song, punctuated by rumbling uprisings of diminished 7th chords in the piano part. Throughout, it offers a kind of understated passion despite various surging intensities. The third movement, Scherzo – poco allegro, is a brilliant marvel of construction, a structure within a structure. It is written in the classic ABA form, yet each of the main sections is in themselves written in sonata form. Both lyrical ideas of section A flow along in easy dialogue between piano and strings. The first theme of the central B ‘trio’ section is in fact an insistent and passionate variant of the transition passage of the A section, presented as a canon between piano and strings. The fourth movement, Finale – Allegro, presents a highly energetic and exuberant first theme with a strong Gypsy flavour. The fiery coda of the finale will have you sitting on the edge of your seats. It’s easy to see how this quartet, along with Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor, have been considered his first masterpieces written on a large scale.
Piano Quartet in C minor, Op.15
Gabriel Faure (1845-1924)
- Allegro molto moderato
- Scherzo – Allegro vivo
- Allegro molto
In addition to other genres, Gabriel Faure wrote an abundance of chamber music, and all of these pieces but one included piano. He steered away from the influences of Wagner and later the impressionists, and instead nurtured his own original post-romantic style. Growing freely out of classical forms, his music employs rich poetic language and is highly imaginative. After five years of courtship, 1877 was the year Faure finally became engaged to Marianne Viardot, only to be broken off by her four months later. The Piano Quartet in C minor was written from 1876-79 during this tumultuous and distraught period in his life. He revised the finale in 1883, destroying the original in the last days of his life…It was first performed on February 14, 1880, and published in 1884.
As with all of Faure’s chamber music, the four instruments are treated very independently to create rich and sometimes complex textures. The first movement, Allegro molto moderato, presents a vigorous Brahms-like first theme with a full bodied sweep of sound. A more delicate second theme follows accompanied by lightly stressed off-beats. Faure thought to write the second movement, Scherzo –Allegro vivo, with a deliberate brilliant virtuosity in order to balance the entire work. It is written in the typical ABA form with such light, nimble piano writing and pizzicato in the strings as the A section’s first theme contrasting well with the more subdued writing and underscored intensity of the B section. It is perhaps in the third movement, Adagio, that we perceive the composer’s broken heart, a slow movement of sad beauty. All four instruments participate in the rise and fall of melodic fragments accompanied by tense throbbing harmonies that permeate the whole with a frustrated kind of starkness. The fourth movement, Allegro molto, is effervescent and energetic and kaleidoscopes between varying textures, articulations and melodic fragments, yet is driven forward by a restless undulating piano part. The work tumbles towards its inevitable conclusion. Truly a masterpiece!
~ Program notes by Holly Duff ~
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