IN: Reviews

Mixing of Timbres, Fantastical Variations, and Mozart Gem


The scheduled reviewer for the Radius Ensemble concert on Nov. 15 was unable to attend, at the last minute, but the concert was too good to leave unmentioned. So your editor, who was there, is tackling it.

The program, which seems to be standard for Radius Ensemble, contained both earlier (18th- to 20th-century) and contemporary pieces.

Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas brasileiras no. 6 for flute and bassoon combines, as Robert Kirzinger wrote in the program notes, “Bach’s compositional approach with the style of Brazilian folk and popular music…. His street-music-influenced style was just the kind of thing Paris was interested in at the time, with its art negre preoccupations, lust for American jazz, and imperialist tendencies.”

Sarah Brady’s flute work was sensuous, sparkling, downright lovely. Gregory Newton’s bassoon playing was also impressive.

John Harbison’s piece, Variations, for clarinet, violin, and piano, written in 1980, was a knockout. Kirzinger points out that Harbison’s earliest musical interests, centered on jazz and his friendship with Roger Sessions, is complemented by his “craft of composition, his frequent use of the traditional forms of classical music and his just-as-frequent subversion of these forms.” Variations, in 12 parts, is not only a thematic reference, but instrumental: parts are both insieme, or in combinations of two instruments. Kirzinger calls them “wide-ranging, even fantastical”; following them was an exhilarating process.

Jonathan Bailey Holland, the Radius Ensemble’s 34-year-old composer-in-residence this season, was represented on the program with the world premiere of his Radius-commissioned quintet for flute and string quartet, Tone Grafting. The title, which Holland notes “refers to the mixing of timbres of the strings with the flute,” is just that; tonal harmony melding, merging, evolving. It is delightful, if shorter than one wished.

The Mozart Quartet in E-flat for Piano and Winds, K. 452, written in 1784, is an amazing piece, as was its top-notch performance by Robert Levin, piano, Jennifer Montbach, oboe, Eran Egozy, clarinet, Gregory Newton, bassoon, and Anne Howarth, horn.

Listening to a performance of this quality testifies to the wisdom of a site like The Boston Musical Intelligencer. With it, the classical-music public can learn more about the superb musician pool we have in greater Boston and, it is hoped, be inspired to attend future concerts by them. Radius Ensemble’s next concert, again with both 20th-century and contemporary works, is March 7.

Bettina A. Norton is a retired museum professional. She has published widely in her field, American historical prints, and in later years, was editor and publisher of The Beacon Hill Chronicle.

Comments Off on Mixing of Timbres, Fantastical Variations, and Mozart Gem