Editor’s note: Here are three reviews from recent concerts; posting has been delayed by technical difficulties.
Three clarinetists in a trio de force for Farberman concerto
Lynn Philharmonia (Oct. 25, Wold Performing Arts Center, Boca Raton)
One of the important insignia of the new regime of conductor Guillermo Figueroa at the Lynn Philharmonia is his determination to offer contemporary music on its regular concert programs.
For the second program, which was performed twice over the weekend of Oct. 25-26, Figueroa brought to the stage a remarkable work by the American composer and pedagogue Harold Farberman, now 85, and the man whom Figueroa credits with being his conducting mentor. Triple Play, a clarinet concerto in three very distinct styles that had its world premiere only last year, speaks an aggressive and eclectic modern language and presents tremendous difficulties for its soloist.
Or in this case, three soloists. In paying homage to the ways the clarinet has been used, Farberman has cast the work in classical, jazz and klezmer styles, and Lynn chose three members of its clarinet section — Anna Brumbaugh, Carlos Ortega and Jacqueline Gillette — all of them graduate students with impressive educational and performance résumés, to perform the piece.
The first movement, the classical one, was also the most traditional in that it was a straightforward utterance in a style we could call Global Contemporary: long-held notes building to tense, violent outbursts, freely dissonant without being 12-tone, intensely serious, and crafted with intense attention to specific colors (à la Webern). The solo part was hugely virtuosic from the standpoint not just of rapid notes, but also with the long-held opening (Farberman calls for circular breathing here) and its frequent ascension into the clarinet stratosphere. Brumbaugh played all of this admirably well, particularly in the higher-note passages, a most treacherous land for players and listeners in which the Abominable Squeak lurks, ready to pounce at any moment.
Ortega, who handled the jazz movement (he resembles a tall Kenny G), also had many difficult passages to conquer, as well as opening this second with a loping, easygoing melody that gave way to blues, plus Latin and Big Band shout-outs. He was accompanied by a trap set, bass and keyboard for part of the movement, and had to show off his virtuoso chops in several note-blizzard passages in which he aimed his clarinet out rather than down.
Like Brumbaugh and Ortega, Gillette had to contend with a variety of approaches in the klezmer-themed third movement, which is also an act of memory for the tragedies that have visited the Jewish people in the 20th century. There was much bending of notes in classic klezmer style, and the orchestra got into the act by clapping along for the survivor’s dance in the middle of the movement. Gillette tackled this with aplomb, and in addition demonstrated the beauty of her lower register.
Farberman was in the house that night, and took the stage for a curtain call, flanked by the three players who did such fine work in bringing his unusual and fascinating work to life.
The second half of the concert was devoted to the Second Symphony (in E minor, Op. 27) of Sergei Rachmaninov. Figueroa led it with a brisk hand, moving the music along without sacrificing its Romantic lushness. There was much to admire here in the playing of his student charges, in particular large string complement, which played with good ensemble, good intonation and gratifying emotional warmth.
The first movement had sweep and power, and the second was crisp and exciting. Lovely clarinet playing led the slow third movement, and the whole orchestra swelled into the famous central tune (curse you, Eric Carmen, for setting lyrics to it) with a richness like a vast field of flowers all opening to the sun at the same time. The finale was lightfooted and muscular (some good timpani playing here, too), and won a shout from the large audience.
This was an excellent performance of this Romantic masterwork by an orchestra, marred only by some of the brass work. While much of their performance was expert and attractive, there was, aside from a couple minor clams, a persistent intonation problem in the middle to lower voices that could clearly be heard when the section was sustaining chords as part of the orchestral fabric.
The concert opened with Mozart, the introduction to his marvelous Abduction from the Seraglio (an opera long overdue for a return to South Florida stages). Ensemble at the onset was not very precise, but the pacing was good, and Figueroa’s reading of the three-note center of the opening theme as short and staccato was ear-catching and interesting. After shakiness in the slow section after the opening, the Lynn Philharmonia got itself on better footing and finished the piece with vigor and sparkle.
The Lynn Philharmonia performs Nov. 15 and 16 in its annual Concerto Competition concerts, which feature several winners of the conservatory soloist’s contests. The concerts are set for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 and 4 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Wold Performing Arts Center on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton. Tickets range from $35-$50; call 237-9000 for more information.
‘Hit Parade’ could have used some more choral hits
Master Chorale of South Florida (Roberts Theater, Boca Raton, Oct. 26)
Today’s classical music performers and organizations are deeply concerned about audiences — not just retaining them, but finding new ones.
And so it was that the Master Chorale of South Florida opened its season last weekend with a forthrightly populist show called “Classical Hit Parade” that promised to give attendees a string of familiar works it could listen to and love. And that’s what it did, but it did in a way that offered too little in the way of a focus on the big community chorus’s strengths, and too much in the way of an old-fashioned variety show reminiscent of the kind of lineup encountered in concert band programs of a century ago.
The chorus, 109 strong and directed by Brett Karlin, was joined in this program Oct. 26 at Boca Raton’s Roberts Theater by violinist Gareth Johnson, tenor Martin Nusspaumer and pianist Jared Peroune. The program was organized into nine sections, and there were 21 separate pieces overall. But six of them were instrumental pieces: Peroune played Debussy’s Clair de Lune and the second movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata, and Johnson played Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, Massenet’s Mediation (from Thaïs), John Williams’ theme from the film Schindler’s List, and the first movement of the Spring concerto from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Not to be a grouch, but I could have done without any of them. It’s not that they weren’t well-played: Peroune is a sensitive, excellent pianist who played his two solo selections with deep musicality, and Johnson, a Wellington standout, is a greatly skilled violinist and a good showman whose work, particularly the Vivaldi, delighted the sizable crowd.
But these pieces really had no place in this concert, classical hit parade or no. A choral concert should be a choral concert, all other things being equal. Three solo songs by Nusspaumer — “La donna è mobile,” from Verdi’s Rigoletto, Ernesto di Capua’s Neapolitan pop song, “O sole mio,” and Leoncavallo’s “Vesti la giubba”— also gave that huge chorus time off. Nussmpaumer, who opens Florida Grand Opera’s season Nov. 15 as Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, is a singer I have enjoyed hearing over the years for his virile spinto sound and strong stage presence. He was not in ideal voice that Sunday; his upper register sounded strained in the Leoncavallo, though he covered it well.
In the “Libiamo, libiamo” drinking song from Verdi’s La Traviata, Nusspaumer was joined by chorus member Lauren Hartman in the Violetta role. She sang well, with a strong voice that matched Nusspaumer’s in force, though it also sounded rather tight. In the encore, Puccini’s “Nessun dorma,” from Act III of Turandot, was cleverly arranged to include the Alfano ending of the unfinished opera, which reprises the tenor aria in choral form; Nusspaumer was only able to hang onto the high B for a brief time before having to cut it off.
When the chorus was performing — and kudos to the group for its excellent texts and translations in the program book — there was much good singing to be heard. In Bach’s Jesus bleibet meine Freude, the bigness of the choir lent the music a homey smoothness that was lovely to hear, and the same went for Mozart’s Ave verum corpus and the Lux aeterna that Edward Elgar fashioned from the “Nimrod” variation in his Enigma Variations. This is a community group that sings at a high level, and it’s led by a young man of serious talent, great enthusiasm and big ideas. Doing a program like this is a smart idea, but one hopes next time it’s rethought as chiefly choral rather than only occasionally so.
The Master Chorale of South Florida hosts a “sing-in” of Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 12 at the First Presbyterian Church of Pompano Beach. Audience members are encouraged to bring their scores and sing along. Soprano Nadine Sierra, mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider and tenor Javi Abreu will join the group for the concert, which includes the Handel’s “Zadok the Priest” and the aria “Piangerò la sorte mia,” from the composer’s Giulio Cesare. Tickets are $15. Call 954-418-6232 for more information.
A new direction for a young quartet with Mexican roots
Vitali String Quartet (Oct. 19, St. Paul’s Delray)
There’s been a change in the ranks for the Vitali String Quartet, and the result has been a much higher level of performance.
The quartet, originally four Mexican-born musicians who connected at the Shenandoah University Conservatory in Winchester, Va. (an hour or so west of Washington, D.C.), now has in its first violin chair Valentin Mansurov, a Lynn University graduate student who hails from Uzebkistan. This new version of the group — the other players are violinist Enrique Reynosa, violist David Pedraza and cellist Alan Saucedo — made a return appearance to Keith Paulson-Thorp’s concert series at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach on Oct. 19.
With Mansurov sitting in the first-violin seat, the quartet was able to tackle two major canonical works: the Quartet No. 4 (in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4) of Beethoven and Mendelssohn’s Quartet No. 3 (in D, Op. 44, No. 1).
Although Mansurov was not completely accurate all the time in the hugely demanding first violin part of the Beethoven, he was able to drive it along with real presence and power. The first movement had the requisite drama so typical of Beethoven in this favorite key of his, and there was gratifying rhythmic precision in the Haydnesque ticking-clock imitation of the second movement, though the sudden key and dynamics changes could have been brought out a little more.
The trio of the third movement was somewhat labored, but the minuet was forceful and intense. In the finale, the Vitalis chose a good tempo that allowed the race-to-the-finish coda to stand out; dynamics here were well-observed and brought the music to an exciting conclusion that the good-sized house warmly applauded.
The Mendelssohn quartet, which begins with one of most exuberant openings in the literature, also was well-led by Mansurov, who needs to play like a soloist through most of the piece, and did. The first movement had a headlong energy that was a pleasure to listen to, as did the first half of the minuet; the trio suffered from haphazard intonation in the unbroken, wandering figuration that dominates it.
Ensemble was good in the tender slow movement, with the three other players working very nicely together in this delicately designed minor-key music, and the aggressive finale, with its many unison passages and scampering triplets, had clearly been well-rehearsed.
Also on the program was the String Quartet No. 1 of the short-lived Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, best-known for his tone poem Sensemayá. This quartet, one of four, all written in the 1930s, has a Bartókian ferocity throughout its two short movements; its most original music comes in the second movement, with a slow, spooky song of violins sliding over pizzicato lower strings. The quartet played it with conviction, and they deserve credit for keeping the music of this important composer before the public.
The Revueltas was followed by another Mexican work, the Suite Infantil of Jose Hernández Gama, a charming four-part collection of Mexican children’s songs arranged in inventive, deft style by this much-loved composer and educator, who has been active into his late 80s. There’s nothing particularly difficult about these clever, brief settings, and the Vitali Quartet brought them off with wit and good spirits.
Next up in the Music at St. Paul’s series is a collaboration with All Saints Episcopal Church and New River Theatre in which five new one-act plays will be accompanied by music composed by Jon Frangipane, and played by cellist David Cole along with the composer at the piano. Tickets for the 3 p.m. theater event are $15-$20. Call 278-6003 or visit www.stpaulsdelray.org.