in: Reviews

September 22, 2009

Gandolfi Commission, Fine Bartok, Herald Concord Chamber Music Society 10th Anniversary

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The Concord Chamber Music Society celebrated their 10th anniversary with a performance at the Concord Academy auditorium in Concord, MA, on Sunday afternoon, September 20. They opened with some comfortable material before moving onto lesser-known lands. The first piece was Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10 (op. 96), with Wendy Putnam, violin, and Vytas J. Baksys, piano. The writing was unmistakably Beethoven, dynamic and daring as only he can be, but the performance didn’t rise to meet it. The attitude was more placid than the score seemed to suggest. I think it was a combination of slightly shy tempos and the room’s dull acoustics.

Lukas Foss’s Central Park Reel was another violin/piano duo. It’s best described as a caricature of a reel. The genre’s essential enthusiasm was doubled over on itself in a cascade of rhythms (the final section fed the violin through a delay pedal for a real barnstorming — unfortunately, sloppy volume control overwhelmed the piano). While a lazier composer would’ve made a minimalist reel and smiled with smug post-modern satisfaction, Foss dove into the nuances of his material and had fun. Sure, the premise was a little cerebral, but the mind at work was genuinely playful and joyous.

A commission from Michael Gandolfi marked the society’s anniversary. His note indicated that Line Drawings was modeled after Picasso’s single-gesture works. The music was a set of five sketches for violin, clarinet, and piano, each written in under three days with emphasis on a single gesture. The writing in each was strong and clear, but the whole set had a kind of “box of chocolates” effect. You’re happy when you get, for example, the chocolate-covered apricot. The marshmallow you might not take on its own, but it’s fine enough when taken with the rest. In all, the set was pleasant and refreshing.

The instrumentation for the Gandolfi was chosen to complement Bartók’s Contrasts, which concluded the program. It’s a piece that shows Bartók at his finest, drawing respectfully from folk music yet finding something altogether new. The players (Wendy Putnam, violin; Thomas Martin, clarinet; Vytas J. Baksys, piano) really rose to the challenge, finding all the dance and the snap in the piece.

Adam Baratz is a composer and pianist. He lives in Cambridge.

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3 Comments

  1. First, a bit of truth-in-advertising: I recently joined the Board of Concord Chamber Music. Having said that, I think Wendy deserves great credit for offering a program that was a departure from the Mozart-Beethoven-Schubert-Brahms norm to an audience of “people of a certain age” (of which I am one), who might not necessarily have been as receptive as they were. (I’m thinking of the general reaction to James Levine’s steady diet of Schoenberg at the BSO a few seasons back, though nothing on the CCM program was as difficult as Schoenberg at his thorniest.) Striking a good balance between repeating the old masterpieces and venturing into less well-known (or even new, as was the case with the Gandolfi work), but very worthwhile, corners of the literature is not easy to do. Speaking just as an audience member, I was very happy to hear good music that I hadn’t heard hundreds of times before.

    Comment by Don Allen — September 23, 2009 at 9:35 am

  2. Yes, but you do not mention that Ms. Putnam wisely clued in her audience about what to expect – that the music in large art was “joyful.” I took that to mean, “Relax, folks; classical music is not just a dose of medicine.”

    Many years ago, I heard the tale of a woman from Salem, who, when asked what she was going to do that afternoon, answered, “Well, my dear, I’m going in to Symphony. I’ve been doing it for 50 years and it’s getting so I don’t mind it a bit!”

    Comment by Settantenne di musica — September 29, 2009 at 7:41 am

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