Schoenfield’s Sonata is a work of its time

REVIEW | 07.24.10 | By James McQuillen | The Oregonian

Paul Schoenfield’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, co-commissioned by Chamber Music Northwest and given its Northwest premiere Friday night at Kaul Auditorium, is a work of its time. For one thing, Schoenfield delivered it to violinist Cho-Liang Lin and pianist Jon Kimura Parker via email in the form of a PDF file; like much of classical music itself, the legends of manuscripts delivered with the ink still wet just moments before a premiere may be a thing of the past.

More important, like the postmodern literature of David Markson that inspired the first movement (which borrowed the title of Markson’s novel Vanishing Point), it overflowed with fragmentary allusions. As Parker told the audience before taking to the keyboard, the duo asked Schoenfield about the one of the more overt of these, a quote from Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, and the composer replied with a long list of all the pieces he’d mined for material: another Beethoven concerto; works by Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, among others; and a variety of songs including “My Darling Clementine.” In Parker’s telling, the exchange recalled the familiar scene in the old Tennessee Tuxedo cartoons in which Tennessee and Chumley consult Mr. Whoopee, who then opens the door of his ridiculously overflowing closet to extract answers.

But the sonata also fit seamlessly in the program alongside works of Mozart, Schumann and Brahms with its rich harmonic language, compositional rigor and traditional four-movement formal structure ending with an Eastern European-influenced rondo. Schoenfield adeptly worked his gathered snippets into an engaging whole-on hearing the piece, his enthusiasm for mathematics seemed unsurprising-and Lin and Parker played it as though it had been in the repertoire for ages, negotiating the denser passages with ease and familiarity and helping to draw the disparate references into unified, beautifully shaped phrases.

The Schoenfield was part of an evening of consistently exemplary chamber playing that began with Milan Turkovic (former Vienna Philharmonic principal bassoonist) and Gary Hoffman in Mozart’s B-Flat Major Sonata for Bassoon and Cello. Opinions vary about Kaul’s acoustics, but this combination worked especially well there, with every detail of the fine phrasing and balance coming through clearly. Pianist Hyeyeon Park, one of the young artists invited this year for mentoring and performance with CMNW, took the stage with clarinetist David Schifrin and violist Toby Appel for Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen (“Fairy Tales”), in a performance that captured nicely the sometimes naïve, sometimes moody character of the infrequently performed pieces. Hoffman joined Lin and Parker for Brahms’s C Minor Piano Trio, a gorgeous, rhapsodic finale for the summer festival’s penultimate program.


"Fantasy is not just a technical showcase, but a big, clear picture window of a musician with a rich soul and great artistic depth. It is also a fantastic example of programming that entertains as well as edifies.”
-Musical Toronto

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