Review: Paley Music Festival

Alexander Paley, piano
Amiram Ganz, violin
Sept. 17, St. Luke Lutheran Church

Franz Schubert wrote a number of works for violin and piano, but few of them are heard as often as, say, the violin sonatas of Beethoven or Brahms. In the first two programs of this fall’s Alexander Paley Music Festival, pianist Paley and violinist Amiram Ganz, a longtime performance partner of Paley’s, surveyed this neglected aspect of Schubert’s music.

On the second night, they concluded with the Fantasy in C major, D. 934, perhaps the least frequently performed of Schubert’s late masterpieces. Why so? Partly because Schubert is not commonly rated as a major violin composer, but more likely because the piece is very challenging technically for both instrumentalists, with the extra challenge of maintaining balance between the instruments – especially when this work is played on a modern piano.

The balance issue arose a few times in this performance, mainly in the inner movements – the decorous figurations of the allegretto and the andantino’s theme and variations; but Ganz and Paley were consistently complementary voices in the soulful, echt-Schubertian theme of the opening andante and its reprise in the finale.

The duo also made finely balanced and highly lyrical work of Schubert’s Violin Sonata in A major, D. 574, known as the “Grand Duo,” arguably the most familiar of the composer’s violin-and-piano works and rather similar in structure and treatment of thematic material to the best-known of Schubert’s string sonatas, the “Arpeggione.”

Paley followed the sonata and fantasy with the piano sonatas in A minor, D. 537, and A major, D. 664, both products of Schubert’s early maturity (dating, respectively, from 1817 and 1819), the former one of his more emotionally turbulent big keyboard works, the latter boasting an early example of Schubert at his most expansive.

The theme of the A minor’s central allegretto is a “Name That Tune” exercise for listeners: It turns up again, more familiarly, in the finale of Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata, the A major, D. 959.

In this contrasting pair of sonatas, Paley nicely balanced the works’ substantial, rather Beethovenian themes with Schubert’s decorative asides, and put extra and constructive effort into thoughtful phrasing and carefully graded dynamics.

The Paley Music Festival concludes with Paley and his spouse and four-hands piano partner, Peiwen Chen, playing Otto Singer’s arrangement of Richard Strauss’ “Symphonia Domestica” and Paley playing Ernő Dohnányi’s suite of themes from Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus,” at 3 p.m. Sept. 18 at St. Luke Lutheran Church, 7757 Chippenham Parkway. Tickets: $20. Details: (804) 665-9516; http://paleymusicfestival.org

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