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July 31, 2008
The triumph of the original...

I'll admit, one of the most refreshing things about a concert program is when there's a mix of the established with the untested work of a living composer.

And if that composer is the performer, all the better.

This was the great appeal of local pianist Tanya Plescia's concert at Sacramento's Westminster Presbyterian Church during its Music at Noon concert series yesterday afternoon.

In a 70-minute concert, Plescia offered the untested with the familiar. She began with the familiar -- Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 15 "Pastorale." But it was with the untested that Plescia made an impression.

The three original compositions Plescia played after the Beethoven showed a wide range of influences, and at times, a taste for pushing musical boundaries.

Here I'll talk about the most ambitious of the three -- the premiere of her "Theme and Variations for Violin and Piano." For this, Plescia was joined by violinist Ingrid Peters.

As one idea, the work does not hold together that cohesively. But Plescia's set of variations are everywhere full of color, and she's not shy about taking risks and being provocative.

The work began languidly, with a timid theme on the violin over static tentative chords. Not great food for thought.

But by the third movement things evolved into something different and entirely interesting -- a fast in-your-face scherzo. In the the sixth movement, where the best music was to be found, the piano and the violin exchanged potent musical ideas.

In this, violinist Peters proved a most willing medium for Plescia's ideas. Peters was not afraid to go for broke with her violin playing. She really brought to the fore many of the tactile and difficult ideas Plescia wrote for the violin.

Some of the latter movements offered motifs with a burnished Sibelius-like infuence. Her best writing was that which conjured the dark and the fraught. And many of the variations were musical ideas that begged a larger canvas. A string quartet perhaps?

The fact that this work, in total, was a hit and miss affair is less important than the fact that it came across as music that makes you think and feel.

And if that isn't the point of original music, I don't know what is.

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