in: Reviews

July 7, 2014

200 Years of Chamber Works at Ozawa Hall

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The devoted faithful gathered in Ozawa Hall Sunday morning for two hours of chamber music of the last 200 years, including the premiere of a new Tanglewood Music Center commission.

The concert opened with Mari Kawamura and Sasha Burdin performing piano four hands: Albert Dietrich’s Sonata in G, op. 19. This German Romantic composer is not one I know, so this was a welcome opportunity to expand my musical horizons and this twenty-seven minute piece gave ample opportunity to acquire a taste for his music. The opening Allegretto was sweet, announcing what I can only think of as a lullaby-sonata.” The Scherzo: Vivace -Trio: Poco più lento had all the excitement of a jig in the first part, then returned to the softness of the first movement in the trio. The Andante sostenuto began as a minor-key nocturne before shifting to a slowly-moving tempest, then once more the skies cleared and the stars shone down. The concluding Lento commenced with an emphatic pronouncement, then turned to its Allegro vivace section, a study in happiness, then concluding Con fuoco, non troppo presto. There were bittersweet passages here, turning the earlier lullaby into a nostalgic recollection. The pianists presented a study in contrasts: Mari Kawamura engaged in a ballet of emotive gestures, while Sasha Burdin was a study in intelligently understated and accomplished musicianship. Both played well, but i prefered Burdin’s keeping the focus on the music.

Then we sprang forward in time to Elliott Carter’s Woodwind Quintet (1948). In two movements and running a dozen minutes, this work features wide-ranging melodies in all five instruments (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn). The music passes through a variety of moods, gestures, and phrases. The ensemble gave a tight, coherent, and strong reading, a fit reminded of this distinctive compositional voice we have recently lost.

Continuing forward in time, we heard Yi Yiing Chen, a current Composition Fellow at Tanglewood, in her 10-minute trio, My Childhood (2013). In two movements, this performance combined Samantha Bennet (violin) and Katherine Dowling (piano), of the New Fromm Players, with current TMC Fellow Daniel Parrette on clarinet. The two movements are entitled “The Stars, Twinkling” and “The Time, Transient and Fleeting.” The first combines Chinese and European musical idioms from the very start; the second shows influences of gypsy fiddling traditions. The music of the two movements are very different, showing the composer’s versatility and breadth of range and influence. I heard an exciting amalgam of eastern and western styles here. The musicians gave a fine performance of this work and must be commended for bringing the music to vibrant life.

After intermission came the premiere of Jesse Jones’s So Eden Sank to Grief (2014). Scored for an ensemble of ten wind instruments, including alto flute and English horn alongside more usual instruments in such an ensemble, the music lasts ten minutes and takes its title from Robert Frost. There is a wealth of interesting colors and textures here, from the opening unison (alto flute and English horn) through to quarter-tone harmonies and cacophonous blasts, ending on a rising flourish. Jones made very effective use of the instruments and offered some innovative orchestration. The harmonies struck me as less progressive than simply sequential. Mathew Mendez’s program note describes this music: “Frost’s vignette of transience and decay provides Jones with his structural conceit, a loose trajectory from melodic purity to harmonic putrefaction.’ . . . The undercurrent of impermanence is somehow Buddhistic, which is what listening to music, the most ephemeral of artistic media, is about, after all: striving vainly to grasp hold of the shifting grains of sand. Yet the written score also confers music with a Christian-style immortality.” I heard more decline and fall here than a trajectory including immortality. The performance was well-executed; I’m just not sure I understand what the harmonies, which are so integral to this work, are saying.

A wind quintet followed: Ingolf Dahl’s Allegro and Arioso (1942). Here the harmonies cleave mostly to common practice idiom even as the modality shifts from major to minor. Each voice has a moment to shine. The Allegro has a staccato, chattering aspect about much of it. The Arioso is solemn, as the title would suggest, but also soaring. The music ends on a pedal tone, dissonant before other instruments drop out and the bassoon remains, offering resolution.

The concert concluded with Robert Schumann’s Pictures from the East, op. 66 (1848), with Burdin and Kawamura returning to the keyboard (this time switching left and right sides) and bringing this concert full-circle. Mendez discusses Rückert’s German translation of the 12th-century “Maqamat of al-Hariri” being an impetus for this music; surely Goethe’s 1819 West-östlicher Divan (not mentioned in the notes) is as well. The music is in six movements, charming vignettes which here were beautifully executed. The music left the audience spellbound.

Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College.  He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.

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