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Margo Kline: Unitarian Society Recital Celebrates Brahms

Violinist Nicole McKenzie and pianist Betty Oberacker were in fine form

Two of Santa Barbara’s most luminous musical talents, violinist Nicole McKenzie and pianist Betty Oberacker, joined forces Sunday in an all-Brahms recital at the Unitarian Society.

The result paid beautiful dividends to a nearly full audience who came in from a golden afternoon to hear the pair in the Brahms violin Sonatas Nos. 1, 2 and 3. McKenzie, in a flowing red strapless evening dress, was in fine form, and Oberacker delivered her customary impeccable piano accompaniment.

Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Opus 78 (“Regenlied”) was written by Brahms at the height of his composing career, and was treasured by his close friend and mentor Clara Schumann. In three movements, it reflects both Brahms’ classical foundation and his place in the Romantic tradition. He composed it shortly after the untimely death of his 24-year-old godson, violinist and poet Felix Schumann, the son of Robert and Clara Schumann. Clara Schumann has been quoted as saying, “ could not help bursting into tears of joy over it. ... I wish the last movement could accompany me to the next world.”

The second piece, Sonata in A Major, Opus 100, pays tribute to a favorite summer haunt of the composer, Lake Thun in Switzerland near Interlaken. Brahms wrote it in 1886, some years after the death of Robert Schumann in a mental asylum, but while widow Clara was still a staunch friend and supporter of Brahms. It is sweeter and more introspective than many of the great man’s works.

The final piece on the program was the Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Opus 108, which is in four movements rather than the customary three. Dedicated to composer Hans von Bulow, it was well received at the time, but Brahms shortly declared his intention to cease composing.

McKenzie and Oberacker are consummate performers, and their readings of these tender works were impeccable, not only individually but as a duo.

McKenzie is a chamber and solo player of renown, maintains a private violin studio and co-directs and teaches at Sandcastle Music Together and Santa Barbara Charter School. Her violin was created for her by Michel Eggimann of Rome, Italy.

Oberacker, a distinguished artist-teacher and UCSB professor emeritus, has toured the world, recorded for several major labels and maintains a busy schedule performing, teaching and coaching chamber musicians.

John Warnock, who schedules the concerts at the Unitarian Society, informed the audience before the concert that McKenzie and Oberacker had played for the worship service that morning, delighting the congregation.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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