Romantic Piano Trios
Alexander Hersh, cello
Winston Choi, piano
June 15, 2021
Rush Hour Concerts
Kristina Lynn, pre-concert talk host
Robert Schumann – Fantasiestücke, Op. 88 (20′)
Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel – Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 11 (26′)
I. Allegro molto vivace
II. Andante espressivo
III. Lied. Allegretto
IV. Finale. Allegretto moderato
She has performed with such chamber musicians as Colin Carr, Eugene Drucker, Ilya Kaler, Ani Kavafian, the Pacific String Quartet and the St. Petersburg String Quartet. She also tours regularly and internationally as a part of Duo Diorama (with her husband, pianist Winston Choi). A core member of Ensemble Dal Niente, she has recorded with the group and toured extensively. She is the Artistic Director of the Unity Chamber Series at the Unity Temple in Oak Park, as well as Artistic Director of the Chicago International Music Institute. Ms. Xu is an artist-faculty member and the Head of the String Program at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts.
A passionate chamber musician, Hersh has performed at music festivals worldwide including: Marlboro, Caramoor, Ravinia Steans Music Institute, Music@Menlo, I-M-S Prussia Cove, Perlman Music Program Chamber Music Workshop, Amsterdam Cello Biennial, Kneisel Hall, Lucerne, and the New York String Orchestra Seminar.
Raised in Chicago, Alexander Hersh began playing the cello at the age of 5. He received his B.M. and M.M. from New England Conservatory where he graduated with academic honors. Hersh was a recipient of the Frank Huntington Beebe fund for studies in Berlin during the 2017 – 2018 academic year where he studied with Nicolas Altstaedt at the Hanns Eisler Hochschule for Musik Berlin. His previous teachers have included Laurence Lesser, Hans Jørgen Jensen, Kim Kashkashian, and Paul Katz. He plays a G.B. Rogeri cello on generous loan from a sponsor through Darnton & Hersh Fine Violins in Chicago, IL.
Known for his colorful approach to programming and insightful commentary from the stage, Choi has recently appeared in recital at the National Arts Centre of Canada, Carnegie-Weill Recital Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Kravis Center, the Library of Congress, Merkin Recital Hall. Choi performs extensively in France, having played venues such as the Salle Cortot, Lille’s Festival Rencontre Robert Casadesus, the Messiaen Festival, the Strasbourg Festival, and at IRCAM. His debut CD, the complete piano works of Elliott Carter (l’Empreinte Digitale in France) was given 5 stars by BBC Music Magazine: “…sheer élan and pianistic devilment…” He can also be heard on the Albany, Arktos, BIS, la Buisonne, Crystal, Intrada, Naxos and QuadroFrame labels.
- In 1842, Schumann’s ‘year of chamber music’, he completed his three Op. 41 string quartets, his Piano Quintet, a Piano Quartet, numerous songs and piano music and today’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 88.
- In addition to his talents for music, he also wrote novels. His father was a bookseller and a novelist, likely inspiring young Robert.
- Founded the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in 1834, utilizing it as a platform for him to write about his philosophies on music new and old, and to announce and analyze new works. Through this he befriended composers such as Chopin and Mendelssohn.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke, Op. 88 (1842) (20′)
Last week at Rush Hour Concerts we heard Robert Schumann’s infamous Piano Quintet, written during his so-called ‘year of chamber music’ in 1842. Written during this same year is his Op. 88 Fantasiestücke for piano trio. While his Piano Quintet was said to feel like listening to an orchestra in your living room, this trio is quite the opposite, feeling much more inverted, intended for an intimate gathering. This music is also much more domestic and light in nature, unlike his serious Piano Quintet or string quartets from this year. Schumann himself even noted it’s ‘delicate nature’, utilized his more comfortable German tempo and character markings, and treated each movement like intimate character pieces instead of the sonata-form style he used in his quartets and piano quintet.
The opening Romanze, is gentle, with a melancholy almost folk-like melody, simply written. You’ll hear this theme again in the next movement, Humoreske, interlinked movements but the later much more energetic and upbeat. Also in the Humoreske we hear other seemingly random miniatures, mostly marches, in a circular design with a delightful ending reminiscent of the marching band fading into the distance. The Duett third movement features the strings singing beautifully atop of the gentle ripples of the piano. The Finale returns to the march feel of the second movement, but on a more grandeur scale, concealing clever writing, more intricate then the previous movements, ending with an exuberant flash.
Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (1805-1847)
Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 11 (1846) (26′)
Though she shared many of the same advantages growing up as her brother, Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel would live a very different life from Felix because of her gender and the era she lived in. She was obviously talented as both a musician and composer but took her roles in the home very seriously, only focusing on music once she felt her duties at home were complete. Nevertheless, over 460 compositions of hers survived, including the piano trio in D minor, heard tonight.
The Mendelssohn home in Berlin hosted a long-running Sunday ‘musicales’, where they presented countless premieres, many of the Mendelssohn siblings own compositions. Fanny Mendelssohn would marry Wilhelm Hensel, who supported her musical journey, leading her to take over the Sunday Musicales. It was at one of these Musicales that her D minor Piano Trio, her last major work, was premiered in 1847. The trio was a gift to her younger sister Rebecka for her birthday. It was only a month later when at a Musicales rehearsal for a premiere of Felix’s that Fanny had a stroke and passed away. Six months later Felix passed away from the same cause, which also claimed both of their parents and their grandfather.
The opening Allegro molto vivace begins softly with a restless piano driving the movement, while the strings sing a passionate melody above. The second theme highlights her strength in vocal writing, being more lyrical than the opening. The second movement, Andante espressivo, also begins with the piano but in a delicate, introspective mood. The overall mood of this movement is reflective and romantic, much like the following third movement which is actually labelled Lied. Given its title, you are right to assume this third movement is extremely lyrical and reminiscent of a “Song Without Word” made famous by Felix. The finale, Allegro Moderato, once again starts with just the piano, playing what sounds to be improvisatory, leading to the entrance of the strings, coming together to perform a dramatic passionate finale.
Program Notes by Ashley Ertz
- As a child she was considered a prodigy alongside Felix, visitors would remark that they were equally impressive.
- Fanny Mendelssohn was the oldest of four children in the Mendelssohn household. Though raised with piano and music lessons, as she came of age, her father only had one goal for her, to become a housewife.
- Felix and Fanny had a very close relationship, so much so that Felix published some of her songs under his name, so that her music would be heard. This led to a slightly embarrassing moment when Felix was playing for Queen Victoria, and she intended to sing her favorite of his songs for the composer but it was in fact a composition of Fanny’s.
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The Rush Hour Concerts series is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. Rush Hour Concerts are produced in partnership with St. James Cathedral and WFMT.
Don’t miss the music of Leila Adu-Gilmore, Tchaikovsky and Debussy next week on
Rush Hour Concerts!
Tuesday June 22, 5:45pm