Schumann birthday celebration with Simon Trpceski

By Philippa Kiraly

Robert Schumann was born 200 years ago Tuesday, and that night, in this year of 2010, there was a chamber music concert in his honor at Nordstrom Recital Hall with members of the Seattle Symphony and pianist Simon Trpceski (who plays a Saint-Saens concerto at the regular symphony concerts this Thursday, Saturday and Sunday).

It began with several Schumann works we don’t hear so often and ended with the great Piano Quintet in E Flat major. It’s rare to hear public recitals of duets by professional musicians except for those playing piano, violin or cello, not that musicians wouldn’t want to, but because they can’t command a big enough audience to make it financially worth while for the presenters. May the Symphony promote more of these.

It was a treat to hear Trpceski performing Schumann’s music with excellent symphony musicians. Seattle Symphony assistant principal horn Jeffrey Fair and Trpceski played the “Adagio und Allegro,” one of the first works composed for a then-new instrument, the valved horn. This was followed by cellist Roberta Downey with Trpceski playing the “Fantasiestuecke,” Op. 73, while principal trombonist Ko-Ichiro Yamamoto with pianist Chaio-Wen Cheng undertook the Three Romances, Op. 94, originally written for oboe, clarinet or violin with piano but transposed later for many other instruments.
This was definitely not a concert of “Trpceski” in large letters, “plus others” in small ones. He played as a consummate chamber musician throughout, equal to his colleagues and apparently having a very good time. While the horn’s Adagio movement seemed to have needed a bit more rehearsal, Fair’s smooth tone and fine phrasing were notable, as were Yamamoto’s. However, it was the “Fantasiestuecke” with Downey and Trpceski which was the most exciting collaboration, the two musicians seeming to think as one. We don’t get a chance to hear Downey on her own. It was a pleasure to hear her draw out a rich, unpressured, singing sound from her cello, and satisfying to know there are performers of this caliber in the midst of the orchestra’s cello section.

After intermission came the Quintet, with Trpceski and the recently formed Barston Quartet of symphony musicians: violinists Elisa Barston and Mikhail Shmidt, violist Mara Gearman and cellist Walter Gray.

From the first notes, the performance was a marvel, a superb performance from all: close knit, beautifully balanced, with every player strong and details brought out by each in turn. The four string players shared an approach and a tone quality which almost had one looking to see which player had handed off the phrase to another, especially notable between cello and viola. The performance sounded as thought all five had played together for years, so unanimous was the conception presented, so musical and satisfying the result.

At then end, the audience surged to its feet in appreciation with shouts of bravo. The feeling was like that at the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival, with the musicians smiling as they played and beaming with delight after, and the audience paying close attention.

Perhaps this is a taste of what we can expect next month when that Festival begins its first season at Nordstrom. Maybe the loss of Lakeside School as venue won’t be such a loss after all. End

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