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RECITAL REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Paul Hersh, viola and piano
Teresa Yu, piano

Piano Duo in Preston Hall July 20 (N. Wilson Photo)

DISCOVERY AND EDUCATION IN FESTIVAL DUO RECITAL

by Elizabeth MacDougall
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

San Francisco pianists Paul Hersh and Teresa Yu presented a Mendocino Music Festival program July 20 titled “Reflections and Variations.” Mr. Hersh is known at the Festival for his professorial introductions to a performance of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (Book 1) and in 2011 he will perform Book 2 in Preston Hall.

“We are going to start with something really strange, Benjamin Britten's Lachrymae for Viola and Piano, Op. 48,” Mr. Hersh announced, and he took up the bow and viola with Ms. Yu at the piano. The work based on a song of John Dowland, born in England in 1563.

The duo led a demonstration of the original Renaissance music called “If My Complaints Could Passions Move.” He proceeded through the Theme and Variations and described the various compositional techniques. “This is a piece about innuendoes. I want everybody to have a handle on what’s going on,” Hersh stated. After a particular demonstration of music he asked “Did you get it?” and the audience laughed. He played through another passage and said “The question is ‘How much of this does stick in your ear, subliminally?’ ”

After listening to the thirty minutes of lecture and demonstration on the Britten work, written in 1950, the final twelve-minute play-through of the performance was exquisite. Each transition was well understood by the audience. The Finale of the variations was peaceful, Mr. Hersh mentioning previously that he likes “to remove all vibrato [from his viola], pretend that I’m playing a sixteenth century instrument.” It was a fetching conclusion to the first half.

Five short works from Grieg’s Lyric Pieces began the second part: Arietta, Nocturne, At Your Feet, Gone, and Remembrances. These were beautiful miniatures that Mr. Hersh introduced with comments on the compositional techniques. “All of the pieces feature going down” (intervals that sound lower). He described some of the music as “moody, dry and moody”.

Completing the concert was Schubert's “Variation on an Original Theme” in A-flat Major (Op. 35, D. 813) for piano four hands. This was a piece that Hersh admitted didn’t know before October, and expressed astonishment at the vast amount of repertoire composed by Schubert. The pianist has recorded substantial amounts of four-hand music and the discovery of the Schubert was for him a delight. He commented on one variation as being in the “key of seven-flats; people didn’t like that, as it’s hard to sight read, and in the tuning of Schubert’s day it would have sounded strange.”

The four-hand performance by Ms. Yu and Mr. Hersh was admirably synchronized and the variations unfolded with thought and elegance. Both artists had the virtuosity to bring the rarely-played duo to life, and the audience was warmly appreciative.