By Dennis D. Rooney
For the third program of its 26th season, which I saw Sunday at the Crest Theatre in Delray Beach, the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival presented three works that each featured a founding member of the group.
Karen Fuller Dixon performed Mozart’s Flute Quartet No. 1 (in D, K. 285) with violinist Dina Kostic, violist Rene Reder and cellist Susan Bergeron. This is the first of three quartets commissioned by the Dutch amateur Ferdinand De Jean (or De Jong) and was probably written between 1777 and 1778. Mozart accepted the commission while in Mannheim but was slow to complete the requested concertos and quartets, so much so that De Jong received only two concertos (the second was a re-working of an earlier Oboe Concerto) and two quartets, for which Mozart received only half the agreed fee.
In prefatory remarks, Dixon made a valiant attempt to rebut Mozart’s apparent dislike of the flute, but the evidence suggests otherwise. The opening Allegro has a squareness of musical impulse despite the artful accompaniment of the flute by the strings. The 35-measure-long Adagio, however, is striking. Mozart has the flute accompanied by pizzicato strings to produce an effect of minstrelsy. By the Rondo finale, he has slipped into his best divertimento style to produce a pleasingly effervescent close, which was nicely brought off by the players.
I was introduced to the music of the English composer Madeleine Dring (1923- 1977) by Richard Killmer, who often performed her Trio for Flute, Oboe and Piano (1968) with colleagues in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, of which he was then principal oboe. It was hard not to share his enthusiasm for that short work, sparkling with echoes of Francis Poulenc. The same character pervades Dring’s later Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano (or Harpsichord), completed in 1971 but not published until 1986. My first hearing of it was at this concert.
This “other” Dring Trio is a bit larger in scale but at about 15 minutes, never wears out its welcome. Poulenc flits about this work, too, in the opening Drammatico and following Andante sostenuto, but most plainly in the Allegro con brio finale. Bassoonist Michael Ellert was the festival founding member who, with oboist Erika Yamada and pianist Milana Strezeva, performed it smartly.
Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) was an Austrian composer who was nine months old when Felix Mendelssohn died. Brahms was 15 years his senior, Tchaikovsky seven, and Dvořák six, just to situate him in the musical continuum. For many years he was a respected teacher at the Vienna Conservatory where he taught Sibelius, Mahler, Hugo Wolf, Franz Schmidt, Franz Schreker, and Alexander Zemlinsky. Johannes Brahms encouraged him to continue as a composer and referred Fuchs to his own publisher, Simrock. Brahms was famously disinclined to praise other composers, but wrote of Fuchs, “[He] is a splendid musician, everything is so fine and so skillful, so charmingly invented, that one is always pleased.”
Fuch’s output includes three symphonies, a piano concerto, 50 songs, three masses, two operas, and a variety of chamber and piano works. Except for four orchestral serenades, his larger works never entered the repertoire, due in part to the composer’s indifference in promoting his own music. His chamber works, however, are revered by players who know them, and his oeuvre is increasingly available on recordings.
His Clarinet Quintet (Op. 102) was published in 1919 but was performed on a concert honoring his 70th birthday and may have been begun as early as 1909. Its publication date makes it the last of the “Big Four” works in the form, which began with Mozart and include works of Brahms and Max Reger. Like his fellows, Fuchs ends his quintet with a set of variations.
Founding member Michael Forte was joined by the same string ensemble as in the opening Mozart Flute Quartet, with the addition of Mei Mei Luo as second violin. Although some unisons between clarinet and strings were not always impeccable, the performance had commitment and made a persuasive case for the music. A somber Adagio sostenuto was highly affecting, which was preceded by a nicely rollicking Allegretto scherzando. Although one didn’t leave the performance humming the finale’s variations theme, that doubtless would change upon repetition.
The Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival concludes this week with performances at 7:30 Friday at the Persson Recital Hall at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach; 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church in North Palm Beach; and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Crest Theatre in Delray Beach. Works by Martinů, Arnold and Dvořák are scheduled. Tickets are $25. Call 561-547-1070 or visit pbcmf.org.