I was listening to a fairly random selection of classical CDs when suddenly I heard a disc that was anything but random–a collection of trios for clarinet, viola and piano by Mozart, Beethoven, and Bruch. Every performance on it is top-notch. The clarinetist, Kim Aseltine, has a fruity tone and an effortless technique; the violist, Eva Stern, a juicy tone and an agile technique; and the pianist, Joel Schoenhals, a meaty tone and a nuanced technique–but also a wonderful way of binding the clarinetist and the violist together to create a cogent ensemble with a cohesive sound. The players aren’t suave Europeans or sleek Asians but young Americans on the faculty at EMU. And why not? EMU has a first-class music department and there’s no reason why a disc by faculty players shouldn’t be first class, too.
Schoenhals, who has a solo recital on September 25 at Pease Auditorium, has three other discs out, and all are remarkable. His recording of Liszt’s virtuoso transcriptions of songs by Schubert is astounding. He executes each arrangement’s coruscating cascades of notes brilliantly, and yet there is plenty of warmth and soul in his playing. Even more impressive is his disc of Bartok’s For Children, on which Schoenhals performs all eighty-four brief pieces with stupendous intensity and staggering virtuosity–not necessarily what you’d expect in music nominally written for children. But most impressive is his disc coupling Stravinsky’s Petroushka and The Rite of Spring in two-piano arrangements performed with Michael Boyd. Schoenhals and Boyd nail the transcriptions’ gazillions of notes with breathtaking accuracy, and–though their supersonic speed makes it hard to tell them apart–with their verve, vivacity, and overwhelming virtuosity, the two of them sound like four, eight, sometimes even sixteen pianists.
If Schoenhals is this good live, his concert ought to be a jaw-dropping experience. For this recital, he’s selected a truly fantastic repertoire: Schumann’s perfervid Fantasy, Chopin’s patrician Polonaise-Fantasy, Scriabin’s passionate Sonata-Fantasy and Beethoven’s immortal Moonlight Sonata. Each work has tremendously difficult pages–Schumann’s colossal central March and Beethoven’s demonic closing Presto–as well as transcendently beautiful pages–Chopin’s luminous closing coda and Beethoven’s sublime opening Adagio sostenuto. If Schoenhals can roar though the difficult pages, soar through the transcendent pages, and, most importantly, unite the two into a seamless aesthetic whole, his recital will be one of the events of the season.