By Dennis D. Rooney
The second program of the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival’s 28th season, which I heard Sunday at Delray Beach’s Crest Theatre, contained three works: novelties by Glière and Thuille; and a Brahms masterpiece.
Born in Kiev in 1875, Reinhold Moritzovich Glière came to maturity and enjoyed early success in Imperial Russia, then managed to flourish in the USSR, survived Stalin, and died full of honors at 81 in 1956. Four of Eight Pieces (Op. 39) written in 1909 by for violin and cello were heard in an arrangement for violin and contrabass by Frank Proto, performed by Mei-Mei Luo and Janet Clippard.
The first, second, third and seventh of the set, a Prelude, Gavotte, Berceuse and Scherzo. They were pleasant listening. The Gavotte was a nod to “olden style” but its middle section was more expressively romantic. In the Scherzo, Clippard was challenged by some of the patterns that fit the bass less comfortably than the cello. Both players matched their suave tones most attractively.
The Sextet for Winds and Piano (Op. 6) by Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907) was the work of a composer born in the Austrian town of Bozen, which through the fortunes of war became Bolzano in Italy. Thuille met his younger contemporary Richard Strauss (1864-1949) when he was 10 and the two men remained best friends until Thuille’s early death from heart failure.
Strauss himself was in part responsible for the first performance of his friend’s Sextet, composed in 1888. Although Thuille studied composition with Joseph Rheinberger, he was also greatly influenced by Strauss. Horn sonority is a hallmark of the Sextet, in which the piano joins a woodwind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn). Horn solos open both the Allegro moderato and the succeeding Larghetto.
After an evocative Gavotte in alternating 2/4 and 3/4, the Vivace, a high-spirited finale, shares its 6/8 rhythm with the finale of the Brahms Horn Trio, Op. 40. Stan Spinola, horn, who introduced the work, was joined by Karen Fuller, flute; Erika Yamada, oboe; Michael Forte, clarinet; Michael Ellert, bassoon; and Joseph Kingma, piano, in a highly satisfying collaboration.
The second of the piano quartets of Johannes Brahms (No. 2 in A, Op. 26) concluded the program, performed by pianist Lisa Leonard, Dina Kostic, violin, Renée Reder, viola, and Susan Bergeron, cello. Composed in 1861 in Hamburg, it was first performed in Vienna the following year by members of the Helmesberger Quartet and the composer at the piano.
Its understated mastery and lengthy musical paragraphs produced the longest instrumental work that Brahms ever wrote, lasting more than 50 minutes when all the repeats are observed, as they were on this occasion. The finest performance of the afternoon, it was played with propulsiveness, great sympathy and well-matched, expressive tone from the strings. Matching them expertly, Leonard continues to be the only pianist on these programs who can coax a pleasing sound from the rather rickety Baldwin on stage.
Throughout, one noticed a constricted dynamic compass that may have been a deliberate choice in order to preserve the excellent ensemble. It was felt most keenly in the final Allegro, with its allusions to Gypsy style. Also, the high level of the three earlier movements was not sustained. Tempos lacked buoyancy, phrasal tension slackened and the performance became a bit sedate, yet the overall quality of the performance was a praiseworthy, if not especially eloquent, exposition of the score.
The festival’s Program III features music by Haydn, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Arthur Foote and Alessandro Besozzi. It can be heard at 7:30 pm Friday at the Persson Recital Hall at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach; 7:30 pm Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church in North Palm Beach; and at 2 pm Sunday in the Crest Theatre at Old School Square, Delray Beach. Tickets are $30. For more information, visit pbcmf.org or call 561-547-1070.