IN: Reviews

Speak, Memory—With Timbre and Love


Yehudi Wyner (file photo)
Yehudi Wyner (file photo)

Ending the week of latest sunsets, summer seemingly had waited for Friday evening, as a rich, warm festival of sound emanated from Richard Stolzman’s clarinet, while Rockport Music’s Artistic Director David Deveau and Yehudi Wyner took turns at the Shalin Liu Performance Center’s piano. In something of a mini-festival, the artists bounteously explored the instrumental timbres and the wonderful variety of moods possible with the combination of clarinet and piano; it constituted an intricate web of friendships through which music is composed, performed, inspired, and sustained. Featured works honored two recently deceased composer-colleagues, Peter Sculthorpe and William Thomas McKinley.

Stoltzman and Deveau opened with the first of three especially memorable moments. Songs of Sea and Sky by Sculthorpe received a dramatic reading, as though updating the piece to create an urgent plea from the Earth for succor. Stoltzman occasionally blew into the body of the piano for extra resonance, while his spectacular pianissimos with gentle vibrato were magical, as if materializing out of thin air. Deveau’s piano was lively and dynamic, and together they brought out variously shamanistic, episodic, plaintive, somber and mystical aspects.

Following a fine account of Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, and preceding a virtuosic take on Hindemith’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Stoltzman and Wyner spontaneously added the third movement of William Thomas McKinley’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. One felt that Stoltzman so yearned to pay tribute to his friend that he simply couldn’t play anything else until he had discharged his burden of love. And yet he couldn’t play it either: he couldn’t find the score which was right before him, then he couldn’t find his breath, being overwhelmed with emotion. When McKinley’s Largo doloroso filled the hall, every note was saturated with beauty, grief and love. It was rapturous, powerful, sustained by Wyner’s firm brotherly piano. Stoltzman transmitted his love and admiration for McKinley to the audience, which felt honored and grateful to be included in such intimacy.

The experience of intimacy brings us to the third undisputable highlight—Wyner’s Commedia for Clarinet and Piano, composed at Stoltzman’s request in 2003 and dedicated to him and Emanuel Ax. Commedia is a brilliant and singularly serious meditation on intimacy. Starting with an outpouring rush of notes diving into an enormous crush of vicious chords in the piano, it soon opened into a mysterious space where courage, exposure, discovery, hesitation and risk define the miraculous resources of intimacy. Wyner’s masterful use of counterpoint (perhaps honoring his teacher Hindemith?) allowed

Richard Stoltzman (file photo)
Richard Stoltzman (file photo)

both instruments to thrive in mutual communication by each acknowledging the other’s irreducible otherness. Alterity was not shunned, it was recognized and embraced. The piece communicated directly, like an arrow to the heart, leaving no doubt that intimacy constitutes the greatest challenge and the greatest achievement of a human life. Wyner’s subtle phrasing of his own notes emphasized what is distinctive about his work: there is no trace of sentimentality. His every precisely crafted and strangely indestructible note seems hewn from granite and diamonds. Wyner seems to say that, like the best music, intimacy is hard-won. Coming after Commedia, Brahms’s late Sonata in F Minor for Clarinet and Piano, which looks back on a lifelong friendship with Clara Schumann, took on a deeply human timbre: “Mortal, guilty, but to me the entirely beautiful.”

Leon Golub is an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge and has been a lover of classical music for over 50 years.


4 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Some readers may like to know that Leon Golub’s final quotation (“Mortal, guilty ….”) is from W.H. Auden’s poem “Lullaby.”

    I wondered if there was a source for his interesting title, but couldn’t find one. It fittingly expresses his theme of friendship and intimacy through music.

    Comment by Joan Griscom — July 13, 2015 at 12:38 pm

  2. “Speak, Memory” is the title of Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography.

    Comment by Regis de Silva — July 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm

  3. Joan G.: You have understood the title. It is citing the title of Nabokov’s memoir of 1951. I meant to evoke generally the idea of letting memory do the speaking, erasing the “I”. Certainly this program conveyed the idea that the passions can be transfigured into music, through skill and patience, through the workings of memory, creating a distance while sublimating and transfiguring. If music is a form of memory, we live our passions and friendships through music in a way that we can’t do in “real time.” The urge to turn experience into music may be the urge to commemorate, as in, say, the second movement of the Brahms.

    Comment by Leon Golub — July 13, 2015 at 1:53 pm

  4. R. de Silva: You got there first. I hadn’t seen your posting when I wrote my reply. Thank you.

    Comment by Leon Golub — July 13, 2015 at 1:55 pm

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