By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also provided the performance photos for this review.
By John W. Barker
The context of this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has been the reconstitution of a neglected trout stream on the property of John and Rose Mary Harbison, the festival directors.
With an overall festival title of “Water Music,” its final program is called “Water Colors,” and is devoted exclusively to music by this year’s featured composer, Franz Schubert (below).
This program, first performed on Friday evening, contained just two major works.
The first was Schubert’s song cycle, “Die schöne Müllerian (The Lovely Miller Maid).
Setting a cycle of 20 poems by Wilhelm Müller (almost a pun!), Schubert has us follow episodically the story of a mill worker who falls in love with his boss’s daughter. She first encourages him and then betrays him, abandoning him to a hopeless death. Through all this, his guide, sustainer and, finally, consoler, is the mill brook, itself effectively a character in the saga.
Occupying the first half of the concert, this cycle was sung from memory by the highly acclaimed tenor William Hite (below). His voice is somewhat more of a dramatic than a lyric tenor, and some of his delivery had a vehemence that was almost too big for the intimate setting of “the barn” on the Harbison estate.
But, in truth, Hite (below) could muster up delicacy and nuance as well as earthy strength. Above all, he became a story teller—at once narrator and protagonist—a singing actor who drew us into the tragic story.
He was also powerfully supported by pianist Kayo Iwama (below). Her playing was not subtle, but it struck just the right tone of assertiveness and caught the bucolic evocations.
As their performance proceeded, I found I was no longer in “the barn” but transported into the world of nature and hopeless love. The poignance and humanity of Schubert’s cycle was thus truly realized.
In the second half, another of Schubert’s “nature” evocations was fittingly offered: the beloved Quintet in A for piano and an adjusted string quartet (D.667). This bears the nickname of “the Trout,” because the fourth of its five movements is a set of variations on his own song, Die Forelle (The Trout). (You can hear that fourth movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Performers (below) were Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Jennifer Paulson, viola; Karl Lavine; cello, and Ross Gilliland, bass; with pianist Molly Morkoski.
It was given a lively performance, and made me pay particular attention to the role of the piano in the scoring. Aside from the two piano trios, this is Schubert’s only full-scale chamber work in which he matches the piano with a string ensemble. It’s not a quasi-concerto, but there is a clear understanding of the sonic distinctions between the piano and the strings as they contrast and collaborate.
The piano’s role was indeed the backbone of this performance, thanks to the work of Morkoski (below), who again—as in the opening concert program last weekend—showed herself a born Schubert pianist of great flair.
NOTE: This program is to be repeated this afternoon at 4 p.m., and will conclude this year’s festival.
For more information, here is a link: