January 12, 2020

SUBSCRIBER BONUS: Stefani Matsuo & Sandra Rivers

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Stefani Matsuo, violin
Sandra Rivers, piano




C. Schumann

R. Strauss

Sonata for Violin & Piano in g minor, L. 140

Sonata for Piano & Violin No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47, “Kreutzer”

Three Romances, Op. 22

Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18

Praised by the Washington Post for her “temperament and clear musical purpose” and “great technical maturity,” Stefani Matsuo has emerged as one of today’s great talents. As a thank you to subscribers, this newly appointed Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster will perform a special recital with pianist Sandra Rivers. Subscribers receive a complimentary ticket to this exclusive performance. Tickets will be limited to our first 330 subscribers. To guarantee a seat, subscribe today.

This concert will take place at the First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati.

[This program has been changed from what was originally announced. Mr. Tomer Gewirtzman is pursuing other creative endeavors in his native Israel, and will therefore not be available for performances in the US this season.]



Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918)

Sonata for Violin and Piano in g minor, L. 140

By 1914, Claude Debussy was already suffering from the early effects of the debilitating cancer that would eventually claim his life. Nevertheless, under the encouragement of music publisher Jacques Durand, the composer set about writing a series of six sonatas for various instruments. These were intended to be Debussy’s bold return to chamber music. Sadly, the composer died after completing only three of the intended six sonatas, leaving today’s sonata for violin and piano as his final published work.

Musically, the sonata presents a broad range of moods throughout its three short movements. The opening Allegro vivo is somber, and often considered the most deeply felt section of the sonata. Debussy’s theme built on falling thirds above rich harmonies conveys the profound melancholy that Debussy himself referred to as “an example of what may be produced by a sick man in time of war.” The second movement, Intermède stands in sharp contrast – bright and capricious it provides a moment of welcome levity before the sonata returns to more serious tones in its final movement. The Très animé finale revisits themes from both earlier movements, but undeniably adopts the darker tone of the opening movement. Nevertheless, Debussy draws the work to an ecstatic conclusion that offers a distinct mood of optimism.


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47, “Kreutzer”

Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata came about as the result of a somewhat meandering process. Originally written in collaboration with virtuoso violinist George Bridgetower, the composition was completed only shortly before its premiere. So shortly before, in fact, that Bridgetower performed the second movement reading the composer’s manuscript as there was no time to create a violin part. Yet, despite this close relationship, a personal falling out between the two men led Beethoven to dedicate the sonata to the French violinist Rudolph’s Kreutzer even though Kreutzer was reportedly not a fan of the piece; going so far as to call it unintelligible. Nevertheless, this sonata helped Beethoven push the boundaries of what a violin sonata could be; earning it a place as a beloved staple of the canon, and helping to usher in Beethoven’s heroic middle period.

The sonata opens with a famously dissonant introduction. Beethoven highlights the full range of both the violin and piano in a technically demanding series of key changes before finally setting into its home key of A major during the movement’s development. This tumultuous opening gives way to an equally broad Andante con variazioni that is the longest movement in any of Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas. Its main theme is lofty and elegant, and its beautiful simplicity stands in stark contrast to the technical fireworks of the sonata’s opening. The presto finale is bright and quick; presenting a much lighter character than the rest of the sonata. This final movement is based on the continuous long-short-long-short rhythmic pattern of a tarantella that creates a sense of perpetual motion throughout.


Clara Schumann (1819 – 1896)

Three Romances, Op. 22

Clara Schumann wrote these Three Romances for Violin and Piano in 1853. “Women are not born to compose” she stated, but continued to break the societal stereotype (only men compose) by writing her own compositions. A gifted pianist, trained by her father, she was also a talented composer who wrote 66 compositions, all of them by 1853. She had eight children and raised them by herself after her husband Robert’s death in 1856. She still managed to have a performance career and wrote Three Romances for her to take on tour with the famous violinist Joseph Joachim. He continued to perform the piece when on tour with other pianists.

A “romance” in Schumann’s time traditionally referred to a short piece for piano alone or for another solo instrument accompanied by piano. Based on how much detail and complexity the piano score involves, it is clear that Schumann was a talented performer. The Three Romances consist of an Andante molto featuring lyrical partnerships between the violin and piano; Allegretto which showcases a syncopated theme and imitation (ending on an unexpected chord); and Leidenschaftlich schnell (passionate, ardently, fervent and fast) brings rolling arpeggios and “bubbling accompaniment” on the piano.


Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)

Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18

Richard Strauss’s violin sonata has earned a rightful place in the repertoire, but is perhaps most significant as an artifact of the composer’s musical development. Completed while Strauss was still in the process of composing Don Juan, the sonata was his last chamber work before he embarked on the series of tone poems and operas that would come to define his career. Musically, the sonata highlights this career transition – its structure and harmonic language look back to the classical traditions of Brahms and Schumann that influenced Strauss to that point, but its dramatic scope hints at the grander styles Schumann would adopt in his near future. This contrast can be jarring at times, but the overall effect of Strauss’s blending of old and new is nevertheless a brilliant and exciting piece of music.

The sonata opens with a brief piano solo, followed by lyrical violin interludes that introduces the main theme. In a nod to its his classical roots, Strauss follows a strict sonata-allegro form throughout the first movement as this melancholy theme transforms to a jubilant ending. The second movement sounds like a tranquil improvisation. The violin melody maintains a beautifully singing tone throughout and ends as a quiet meditation. The third and final movement begins with a slow, methodical piano introduction which then leads into an exuberant Allegro. After a rush of virtuosic passages from both performers, the sonata comes to an explosive end.