Violinist and pianist masterfully perform for spring concert series

Violinist and pianist masterfully perform for spring concert series

February 5, 2016

The Brandeis University’s spring concert series started this past weekend, with the special presence of Daniel Stepner on the violin and Janice Weber on the piano. They debuted this year’s concert series on Jan. 31 at the Slosberg Music Center, a show that compelled virtually everyone to attend, even interim president Lisa Lynch.

The show’s program began with a composition by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), two sonatas for violin and piano from 1876, which was a breakthrough work back then for the 30-year-old composer. Before the composition was printed, Fauré was known chiefly as a composer of songs and short piano works, mostly played in salons and other private settings. In fact, during his time, chamber music and serious song recitals were not as popular in France.

Brandeis is planning on devoting a weekend festival on March 12 and 13 to Gabriel Fauré, who is considered an under-appreciated composer. The weekend will consist of three scholars reading papers on Fauré. There will be a presentation of his best work, but also his less known work, which includes orchestral and choral pieces. The following day will contain a Masterclass for singers with Dominique Labelle, soprano. And there will be a round-table discussion with several scholars and experts.

Fauré’s “Sonata” is a splendid work, a joy to play. The content remained fresh, highlighting its individualism. According to Camille Saint-Saëns, Fauré’s former instructor, “In this sonata you can find everything to tempt a gourmet: new forms, excellent modulations, unusual tone colors and the use of unexpected rhythms … and a magic floats above everything, encompassing the whole work, causing the crowd of usual listeners to accept the unimagined audacity as something quite normal. With this work Monsieur Fauré take his place among the masters.”

The second piece that was played during the show is titled “For Violin Alone” by John Harbison. The language in this Harbison’s work alternates between modal and chromatic, usually overlapping harmonic spheres. The opening ground is a set of variations on a Blues-like progression. The most outstanding part is the duet because it engages two voices in strict counterpoint, and the epilogue quietly and smoothly ties motives together.

The performers were breathtaking; Daniel Stepner, who moved to Boston back in 1975, has been highly involved in several aspects of the Boston area’s musical life, including being a concertmaster, chamber player, recitalist, recording artist, conductor, concerto soloist, private teacher, theatrical musical director, among other roles throughout his extensive career.

Since 1987, his main work has been as a first violinist of the Lydian String Quartet, in residence at Brandeis, where he is a professor of the practice. For approximately 20 years, he was concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society Orchestra under Christopher Hogwood and Grant Llewellyn, and for 30 years he was artistic advisor to the concert series at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Stepner has recorded extensively on modern and period instruments, including music from Monteverdi through Harbison, four string quartets. His recording also includes the recordings of the Sonatas and Partitas of J. S. Bach, the Five Violin Sonatas of Charles Ives, chamber music of Yehudi Wyner, and the Late Quartets of Beethoven, with the Lyds.

The other performer, Janice Weber, has performed in numerous prestigious places, such as the White House Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, the National Gallery of Art and Boston’s Symphony Hall and has appeared with distinct orchestras throughout North America.

Her recordings include Rachmaninoff’s complete transcriptions; with the Lydian Quartet, Leo Ornstein’s vast Piano Quintet; flute and piano works of Sigfrid Karg-Elert; and waltz transcriptions of Godowsky, Rosenthal and Friedman. In addition, she has solo piano works of Leo Ornstein and Ross Lee Finney’s Chamber Music, among others.

The event was packed with energy from beginning to end, and the material was fresh and masterful just as the two skillful artists were.