Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Music review: Poulenc Trio offers skill, variety

The Poulenc Trio: Pianist Irina Lande,
oboist Vladimir Lande, and bassoonist Bryan Young.
(Photo courtesy Flagler Museum)

By Greg Stepanich

PALM BEACH -- A Baltimore-based trio showed Tuesday night why it is that the infinite variety of chamber music never will be staled, in a program of unusual works that spanned three centuries and styles from Baroque to American Eclectic.

The Poulenc Trio -- the husband-and-wife team of oboist Vladimir Lande and pianist Irina Lande, and bassoonist Bryan Young -- opened the new season of chamber concerts at the Flagler Museum on Palm Beach with an intriguing recital that doubtless left some audience members wondering why they don't hear this combination of instruments more often. The Landes and Young are veteran players who demonstrated admirable technical accomplishment, tight ensemble and enough breadth of approach to make compelling cases for each kind of music on the program.

The standout piece came at the beginning of the concert's second half, with the Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon written in 1926 by the trio's namesake, Francis Poulenc. This gorgeous and witty work encapsulates Poulenc's clown-and-poet aesthetic and offers a strong lesson in how to write effectively for two double reeds and a keyboard.

Vladimir Lande and Young both have large, commanding sounds, and the two men notably made the most of the lovely melodic material entrusted to them in the Andante, ending that movement, as they did at least one other time that evening, with a memorable example of the quality of their collaboration: an octave that was pretty much perfectly in tune. Pianist Irina Lande proved to be a formidable presence as well, handling Poulenc's wide-ranging sparkle and heartfelt ardor with equal aplomb.

The challenges presented by the Poulenc were magnified in the piece that closed the concert, the third movement (titled Jaunty) of Andre Previn's Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano. "It's a curious piece," Young said in remarks to the audience, and what that turned out to mean was a piece that opened with great rhythmic difficulty and then meandered to a section in which an almost cartoonish Basie-like tag in the reeds alternated with a lonely, slow-moving meditation in the piano.

This movement has the germ of three or four pieces in one, and it doesn't really work as is. But the Poulenc Trio was an excellent advocate for it, with oboist Lande and Young in lockstep for the tricky opening theme and pianist Lande providing plenty of power and fire in her showboat section of the movement.

Earlier in the concert, the trio presented a true rarity in the Trio Pathetique of a young Mikhail Glinka. Originally written in 1832 for clarinet, bassoon and piano, the Poulenc's oboe version, transcribed by Vladimir Lande, was just as persuasive. This is Glinka before he was Glinka the founder of the Russian school, and it's an uneven, heavily Italianate work that reflects the popular operatic sounds then prevalent in Milan, where the composer was living at the time.

In keeping with that, this is a score with an elaborate, busy piano part backing the aria-like statements of the oboe and bassoon. Pianist Lande sometimes overwhelmed her partners here, which is partly a hazard of Glinka's florid writing, and perhaps partly a hazard of Whitehall's resonant acoustic. But she was also overly prominent in the accompaniment of the Largo, which gave the music a hard, pushed edge when more contrast was called for.

The balance was much more gratifying in Tuesday night's opening work, a trio sonata (Chamber Trio No. 24 in F) by Handel. This is ideal music for this group of instruments, and the trio gave it a reading of serene, polished loveliness in which beautiful tone in the reeds predominated and the give-and-take among the three players was precise and collegial.

Two other opera-derived works supplied virtuoso flash and excitement for oboe and bassoon: the Dance of the Tumblers, Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestral staple from his opera The Snow Maiden, and a Fantaisie Concertante on music from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri.

The Rimsky-Korsakov, arranged by Anatoly Trofimov, started well but seemed to give the trio some trouble toward the end as the piece's relentless energy nearly threw the musicians off track. The Rossini pastiche, arranged by Charles Triebert and Eugene Jancourt, gave oboist Lande and Young tender duets but also yards and yards of rapid notes, virtuoso tasks that they performed with impressive accuracy and high style.

For an encore, the Poulenc was joined by violinist Anton Lande, son of Vladimir and Irina and a student at Baltimore's Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University. The four musicians played a custom arrangement of Ciao Paris, a tango by the now-inescapable Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. The younger Lande plays with the upfront emotionalism of the Russian tradition, which suited this slight bit of movie music well and added some fresh color to the ensemble.

The next concert in the Flagler Museum series features the Santa Fe Guitar Quartet of Argentina, a foursome whose repertory ranges from the Baroque to tangos. The concert is set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, at the museum on Cocoanut Row in Palm Beach. Tickets are $60. Call 655-2833 or visit for more information.

1 comment:

Sweet_Simplicity said...

I'd never been to this venue before and I was totally amazed by the experience. I loved the performance and thought it was really nice that you can meet the artists afterwards.