Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Music review: Mozart quintet makes graceful memorial at chamber fest

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in an unfinished portrait
by his brother-in-law, Joseph Lange.

By Greg Stepanich

A sweetly radiant reading of the Mozart‭ ‬Clarinet Quintet added a poignant touch to the closing half of the third concert in the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival‭’‬s current summer season.

The quintet‭ (‬in A,‭ ‬K.‭ ‬581‭) ‬was dedicated to the memory of the Rev.‭ ‬Perry Fuller,‭ ‬father of festival co-founder Karen Dixon.‭ ‬Fuller died earlier this month of liver cancer,‭ ‬and Dixon has bowed out of the series this summer to tend to family matters.‭ ‬Dedicating the quintet to him was a gracious gesture,‭ ‬and‭ ‬it was matched by a graceful performance.

On Sunday afternoon at Delray Beach‭’‬s Crest Theatre,‭ ‬clarinetist Michael Forte was joined by violinists Dina Kostic and Mei-Mei Luo,‭ ‬violist Rene Reder and cellist Susan Bergeron.‭ ‬There were some warm-up difficulties at first,‭ ‬with Forte sounding a little thin and Kostic under pitch,‭ ‬but those‭ ‬blemishes evaporated a couple minutes into the first movement,‭ ‬which was played overall with a gentle kind of serenity.

The beautiful second movement fit this mood excellently,‭ ‬and Forte‭’‬s lovely tone and long-breathed lines were matched by playing of maximum tenderness from the string quartet.‭ ‬And the quartet‭’‬s sense of unity and quiet purpose were much in evidence in the first trio of the third movement,‭ ‬which is for the strings alone.‭

The finale,‭ ‬a remarkable set of variations,‭ ‬was capably and professionally played,‭ ‬but it could have used more color and contrast.‭ ‬The main theme would have benefited from some crisper rhythmic snap,‭ ‬and the moody minor-key variation from more‭ ‬mystery.‭ ‬The last movement has a wide variety of moods,‭ ‬and here the musicians didn‭’‬t take enough advantage of all those differences.

The Mozart closed the concert Sunday,‭ ‬and it was preceded by music of‭ ‬the Czech Bohuslav‭ ‬Martinu,‭ ‬a frequently programmed‭ ‬composer for this series over the years.‭ ‬Kostic,‭ ‬Luo and Reder joined for the Serenata No.‭ ‬2,‭ ‬a three-movement piece from‭ ‬1932.

While this piece has the harmonic and rhythmic Martinu fingerprint,‭ ‬it differs from much of his other work in its pronounced lyricism.‭ ‬The second movement,‭ ‬marked‭ ‬Poco andante,‭ ‬is a straightforwardly pretty‭ ‬piece,‭ ‬and the three women played it winningly.‭

The outer movements have that full-sun quality common to many of Martinu‭’‬s speedy movements,‭ ‬and in both instances the three played with vigor,‭ ‬but it was a vigor with a light touch,‭ ‬and the final impression of this brief work was of warmth and geniality more than athleticism.

Dixon had been scheduled to play Eric Ewazen‭’‬s‭ ‬Mosaics on the program,‭ ‬but in her absence it has been rescheduled for next summer.‭ ‬Replacing it was a most unusual choice,‭ ‬the‭ ‬Duo Concertante for bassoon and marimba of Leon Stein‭ (‬1910-2002‭)‬,‭ ‬who taught for almost‭ ‬50‭ ‬years at DePaul University in his native Chicago.‭

Marimbist Michael Launius and bassoonist Michael Ellert teamed for this three-movement work,‭ ‬which is written in a jazz-inflected tonal style.‭ ‬What‭’‬s perhaps most interesting about it is that the‭ ‬material is worked out in a serious,‭ ‬thorough manner,‭ ‬when what you might expect in this instrumental combination is brevity and a comic lightness.

But the final movement‭ ‬of this duo is a fugue,‭ ‬and the piece opens with a jazzy chordal motif in the marimba whose rhythm can be heard running throughout the movement.‭ ‬Both soloists have a‭ ‬lot of work to do,‭ ‬and‭ ‬the effect is of two strong-minded voices having a reasonable conversation‭; ‬rarely is the‭ ‬texture reduced to one accompanying the other.

Launius and Ellert demonstrated thorough commands of their instruments,‭ ‬and‭ ‬gave Stein everything he wanted,‭ ‬especially in the fugue,‭ ‬which has a bustling theme that had a nice way of hooking the ear into following where it was going.‭ ‬This was a fine performance of a worthy piece,‭ ‬a challenging work that offered listeners a fresh‭ ‬instrumental combination and a sober contemporary flavor,‭ ‬and one that was in keeping with the best traditions of this durable festival.

The‭ ‬Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival‭ wraps its‭ ‬20th anniversary season beginning at‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Friday‭ ‬at Persson Hall on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University with a performance of the Piano Quintet‭ (‬in E-flat,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬44‭) ‬of Robert Schumann,‭ ‬and Igor Stravinsky’s‭ ‬L’Histoire du Soldat,‭ ‬featuring actors Barbara Bradshaw,‭ ‬Joe Gillie and Randolph Dellago.‭ ‬The program is repeated at‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Saturday at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens,‭ ‬and at‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday at the Crest Theatre in Delray Beach.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$25.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬330-6874,‭ ‬visit‭ ‬www.pbcmf.org,‭ ‬or buy them at the door.

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