Ensemble Schumann dazzles

Queen of Arts

By LAURA LEIGH MONTEREY

Mondays are legendary for being the toughest day of the week, but Ensemble Schumann provided the perfect finish to last week’s opening day. Presented by the Ridgecrest Chamber Music Society, the renowned ensemble shared its musical talent at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church, then presented workshops the following day in the middle schools.

Sally Pinkas on piano, Thomas Gallant on oboe and Steve Larson on viola comprise the ensemble. From the first notes of Trio in D Major, Op. 61, by Heinrich von Herzogenberg, one can’t help but rise to the lovely clarity of sound produced by each instrument so artfully played, and in such balance.

Herzogenberg’s pieces seemed to draw out the artists as well – Sally very intense on piano, Steve positively active on viola and Tom stable, wise, and wonderful on oboe. Listening and watching, I pondered how much of this wonder was them and how much was the composer.

In four movements – Allegretto, Presto, Andante con moto and Allegro – they created a new space around themselves, full of beauty, and it included us. This seemed to me an almost magical time, a superlative experience.

The second offering was three pieces from Max Bruch’s “Eight Pieces for Trio, Op. 83,” beginning with No. 2, Allegro con moto. Against a rolling, picturesque backdrop of flowing piano and viola, the oboe wings in with its own sweet clarion voice like an angel. The oboe flits and dallies until the piece ends on a long, smooth solo note that Tom held like a rock.

Bruch’s music is composed in such a way as to create windows where one instrument can stand out for a period of time, creating a beautiful highlight that passes from one instrument to another. No. 5, Rumaenische Melodie, Andante, used this technique to a great extent, then No. 4, Allegro agitato, brought in the piano, strong and dominating, driving all before it. Absolutely masterful!

RCMS always provides refreshments, and there one meets the most interesting people. Conversations may range from friends well met to fundraising, and I found out that I was not the only one new to Herzogenberg, which was a comfort.

In the second half of the concert, the ensemble played all three movements of Mozart’s Trio in E-Flat Major, K. 498, “Kegelstatt” – Andante, Menuetto, and Allegretto. In places, the piano part was so delicate and intuitive, decorated with mincing trills, and providing its share of intimate conversation among the instruments.

Robert Schumann’s “Maerchenerzaehlungen” (“Fairy Tales”) for Trio, Op. 132, was the final offering. Thundering passages melt into softer, lyrically melodious dialog. The first tale ends with the viola and oboe holding a long note together, ending at precisely the same moment. The second brought to mind a scene of three old souls on a park bench enjoying each other’s company and intimate conversation. The third tale was driven by strong piano from the start, and the fourth, as Sally describes in the program notes, was “impetuous and victorious… Then the ending is jubilant.”

Permit here, if you will, an autobiographical note. A year ago, after about a 50-year break, I started back on the piano, and just a month ago discovered beginning classical music as written by classical composers themselves. I immediately redirected and started with Schumann’s Album for the Young.

After the concert, RCMS took Sally, Steve, and Tom to dinner, and before we broke away for the night, I asked them to sign my Schumann music book.

Sally writes, “Enjoy this fantastic, amazing music. It’s the best there is!” And, of course, I am thrilled!

RCMS arranged with Ensemble Schumann to take its music into the James Monroe and Murray middle schools and work with select music programs. According to Fran Rogers, coordinator of the school programs for RCMS, both workshops were a success.

“Students and teachers were very appreciative of the close contact and interaction with the ensemble,” she remarked. “There is at present no student in our valley playing the oboe, but perhaps this will change with this introduction of excellent oboe playing!”

Story First Published: 2019-10-25