Sunday afternoon, July 18, Maverick Concerts presented an uncommon talk-to-music ratio. Music Director Alexander Platt engaged in lengthy introductions to all but the last item on Imani Winds’ program, sometimes including dialogues with the players. The music, though, was mostly choice and all very well played.
It’s a bit startling to hear, at the beginning of an Imani concert, that aggressive, powerful, and crisp sound. Imani plays with a kind of dead-on precise coordination that takes a while to get used to. (This is not a complaint!)
Sunday’s program began with Red Clay and Mississippi Delta, an inventive and amusing program-opener by Imani’s flutist Valerie Coleman. Its sometimes raucous five minutes went by very quickly.
Irving Fine was a short-lived (1914-62) American composer, a protégé of Aaron Copland, who was remembered with much love and admiration by his contemporaries. His Partita for Wind Quintet, one of his few works that survives even on the fringes of the repertoire, is a dedicated piece of neo-Stravinsky, not as cogent as the master’s work but still tasty and well written for the winds. If it has a weak point, it might be the final slow Coda, which seemed a bit overlong. Imani’s performance combined strength and refinement, a vivid presentation.
In Barber’s familiar Summer Music, Imani’s performance seemed eerily precise, almost as if performed by a computer. But it had plenty of human expression, along with a beautiful quality of balance that let every line in Barber’s writing sing.
An odd arrangement of the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream didn’t work very well despite the dazzling performance. But the Wind Quintet of John Harbison, which followed, provided the most substantial music of the afternoon. Like Fine, Harbison’s wind writing is highly influenced by Stravinsky. But Harbison, three decades after Fine’s music, took the Stravinsky style much further into the 20th century, imitating the style and counterpoint to some extent but going into atonal realms that Fine never dreamed of. The music picks up much of Stravinsky’s lucidity and some of his humor; the final movement sounds like a march at a lunatic asylum, alternately disturbing and hilarious. This is truly distinguished music, given a very expressive performance with even more impressive feats of coordination. The audience greeted the performance with whoops and cheers, not what you always expect from the gray heads who make up most of the Maverick crowd.
In the final brief Klezmer Dances, arranged by Gene Kavadlo, Imani’s clarinetist Mariam Adam proved that she could hold her own in a genuine klezmer band, with the kind of sliding inflection the real klezmers use.
My only complaint about this concert is its brevity. By my watch we got just over an hour of music, stretched out to normal concert length by talk. How about adding a Reicha Quintet next time? The way these musicians play, that would be a real treat!