Hidden Valley Strings


By Scott MacClelland

IT HAS TO BE THAT SUPERMOON. Without cold or dark, it was night nevertheless on Saturday afternoon at Hidden Valley Theatre in Carmel Valley. Stewart Robertson introduced a program of nocturnal music and Roy Malan led his band of 15 crack string players—16 including Malan as concertmaster—into a mystical world of dreams and visions, culminating in the great Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night”) of 1899 by Arnold Schoenberg. That 30-minute work which began life as a sextet for violins, violas and cellos is better known in the version heard here, the second revision (1943) of the original. In the late romantic style, part Wagner and part Brahms, it is eminently coherent in both form, tonality (D Major and Minor) and narrative, making it both a “tone poem” in the manner of Liszt and a classical sonata.

Schoenberg’s mastery of tonal relationships gave him the sure hand he needed to ‘translate’ the German poet Richard Dehmel’s rhyming verse into a soaring, arching musical meditation. The text deals with a betrothed couple on an evening stroll during which the woman confesses that she is pregnant by another man and berates herself for her “sin.” In a clumsy translation from the German, the fiancé says to her, “May the child you conceived be no burden to your soul. Just see how brightly the universe is gleaming! There’s a glow around everything; you are floating with me on a cold ocean, but a special warmth flickers from you into me, from me into you. It will transfigure the strange man’s child. You will bear the child for me, as if it were mine.” You can hear all of it in the music, the distress, the tension, the magical transfiguration and resolution.

Malan’s orchestra is, if anything, better than ever. His wife Polly is a terrific principal violist. The principal second violin, Susan Freier, another strong presence. He has recruited Rebecca Jackson, the Santa Cruz violinist who founded her own Music in May chamber music festival and is active on the San Francisco musical scene. Jonah Kim, the new principal cellist of the Santa Cruz Symphony is also on board. I do injustice to the others by not naming them; suffice to say this is a first-rate ensemble.

To open the program Grant Jean Paul Bogart’s recent arrangement of Debussy’s Clair de lune cast a spell. Then came the first and third movements of Manuel Ponce’s Estampas nocturnas (Nocturnal prints) of 1923, respectively La noche, a darkly ominous mood, and Arrulladora, a lullaby. (Robertson had warned that some of this music might be sleep-inducing.) And just before intermission, the familiar Notturno from Alexander Borodin’s String Quartet in D.

Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik would have provided a more familiar touchstone but the large audience turnout suggested an appetite for something rarer.