By Dennis D. Rooney
The program of the inaugural concert of the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival’s 26th season (which I heard Sunday at the Crest Theatre in Delray Beach) was opened by the organization’s three founders: flutist Karen Fuller Dixon; clarinetist Michael Forte; and bassoonist Michael Ellert, who performed a Divertimento in B-flat (Op. 12a) by Joachim Kötschau, a German pianist and composer who was born in Lübeck in 1905 and died in Delbrück in 1973.
Kötschau was a pupil of Paul Graener (1872-1944) in Leipzig and spent many years working in that city. The Divertimento, published in 1953, has five brief movements that are very light in character. Although at least one commentator has compared Kötschau to Hindemith, the connection seems tenuous at best. The most striking quality of the work is its pervasive use of the minor mode. It was an intriguing opener, excellently performed.
The Festival is noted for its adventurous repertoire, and the remainder of this first of four concerts to be heard this month hewed to that tradition. Eugène Ysaÿe’s Trio de concert, Le Londres, was performed by violinists Mei-Mei Luo and Dina Kostic, and violist Rene Reder. The great Belgian violinist’s only string trio, the work was begun in 1914 and premiered in London in 1916, when the composer was joined by violinist André Mangeot and violist Lionel Tertis. What a starry group that was!
After the first performance, Ysaÿe continued to revise it until at least 1926, discarding the original third movement. It was unpublished at his death in 1931. In 1970, an edition appeared having only a single movement. All three players are challenged almost continuously by dense textures employing multiple stops. The effect is like hearing an imaginary fourth instrument at times. Over the duration of what seemed like an arch form, the players never allowed the music’s expressive intensity to flag.
Till Eulenspiegel — Einmal Anders! is a remarkable instrumental quintet wherein its arranger, Franz Hasenöhrl, performed a masterly piece of legerdemain: conveying both the musical sense and the sonority of the 100-piece orchestra of Richard Strauss’s famous tone-poem from the combination of violin, clarinet, French horn, bassoon and double bass. Hasenöhrl (1885-1970) was a professor at the University of Vienna. He signed his original works Franz Höhrl. (His actual surname means “bunny ears.”)
His arrangement, published in 1954, is subtitled “einmal anders!” (“But different!”), no doubt to suggest that in addition to the instrumentation, he condenses Strauss’s 15-minute original to eight minutes through clever nips and tucks of repetitions and transitional material that few listeners would notice. Violinist Luo and bassist Jeffrey Adkins anchored the top and bottom registers of the instrumental sonority. Stan Spinola was the all-important horn player, assisted by Forte and Ellert.
After intermission came the most familiar of all the works performed, although Johannes Brahms’s Piano Quartet in C minor (Op. 60) is no popular favorite. Begun in the composer’s 20s, when he was besotted with Clara Schumann (an attachment that forever remained platonic), it was revised in his 40s and, like his late life revision of the Piano Trio, Op. 8, reflects the elder composer’s discomfort with the musical effusions of his youth.
Brahms changed the original key of C-sharp minor to C minor and revised three of its four movements. Only the Adagio, with its gorgeous cello solo, was left unaltered, including its E major tonality, which is otherwise remote from C minor. A pervasive grimness is heard in this work (save the Adagio), which has led to too much being made of the composer’s analogies to the quartet and Goethe’s Werther, mostly by those who have never read it.
The ensemble had the advantage of an excellent Steinway D piano, but pianist Milana Strezeva needed more sheer power in addition to accuracy and a good tone, to convey the scope of the first and second movements adequately. However, the teamwork between her, violinist Kostic, violist Reder, and cellist Susan Bergeron was precise and expressive. For its introductory program, the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival served up a true musical feast.
The festival continues this week with performances at 7:30 p.m. 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. Tickets are $25. Call 561-547-1070 or visit pbcmf.org.