By Dennis D. Rooney
I described the PBCMF’s inaugural concert of its 26th season as a “feast.” The second program, which I heard Sunday at Delray Beach’s Crest Theatre, seemed more like a tasting menu with a few amuse-bouches.
An interesting Trio in C, Op. 33 No. 2 for bassoon, violin and cello by François-René Gebauer opened the program. The composer (1773-1845) was a celebrated bassoonist and produced a number of chamber pieces utilizing that instrument. Bassoonist Michael Ellert, in prefatory remarks from the stage, informed us that the original form of this work was for three bassoons!
He, violinist Mei-Mei Luo and cellist Susan Bergeron gave a convincing account of the work’s two short movements, an opening Alla Breve followed by an Adagio that soon became a Rondo polonaise. It was high-level Hausmusik but never rose above that comfortable level of instrumentalism. Such works were produced in great quantity for musical amateurs to play at home.
Another example was heard next when violinist Dina Kostic and violist Rene Reder played three Schubert Lieder (“Wohin?,” “Der Müller und der Bach,” and “Erlkönig”). They are from a collection of 50 of the composer’s 600-odd songs arranged by an unknown G.A. Wolff, one of many such persons on the staff of every music publisher, tasked with making arrangements for all sorts of instruments either solo or ensemble.
Violin and viola combine to present the melody and a suggestion of the original piano accompaniment. Occasionally, the two players hand the melody back and forth. Not too difficult to bring off in the first two, which are both from the cycle Die schöne Müllerin. But “Erlkönig,” one of Schubert’s greatest early songs, has a pounding piano accompaniment that anchors the drama of Goethe’s text about an anxious father, a sick child and the seductive blandishments of the Elf King. The sonority of violin and viola in this material were unable to suspend disbelief, although Kostic and Reder played well.
The program’s second half opened with a Trio d’anche, or reed trio, of oboe, clarinet and bassoon. But not one of the many such works by French composers produced throughout the last century; instead, the work of a British composer, Gordon Jacob (1896-1984). Long associated with London’s Royal College of Music (RCM), he was a celebrated orchestrator who never abandoned tonality. His catalogue of works was diverse, but he later seemed to specialize on those for wind band.
This trio has four short movements, all but the second of which are in quick tempos. The austere, almost medieval character of the Adagio provides a moment to ponder the predominance of jollity elsewhere. A serious undercurrent gives added dimension to the music’s very entertaining character. Erika Yamada, Michael Forte and Michael Ellert, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon, respectively, were the excellent performers.
The Dixtuor (Dectet) of Jean Françaix (1912-1997) was a later production of the prolific French composer, whom Nadia Boulanger thought one of her best pupils. His cheeky, insouciant Concertino for Piano and Orchestra put him on the musical map in 1933. For more than 60 years afterward, he composed prolifically in all genres for the concert hall, opera and stage. His contribution to the Trio d’anches catalogue was a Divertimento from 1947.
His oeuvre has one predominating characteristic, a playful unseriousness. He especially valued contrast and had a penchant for entertainment. Hearing the Dixtuor from 1987, I noted the spirit of the French music hall throughout its four movements. The serious mood established in the opening Larghetto tranquillo seems to be waiting to be demolished by contrasting material in lighter mood. This subversive lurking is more strongly suggested in the Allegro moderato finale.
The 10 performers filled up the stage of the Crest Theatre impressively and negotiated the music in an equal manner. They were: Dina Kostic and Mei-Mei Luo, violins; Rene Reder, viola; Susan Bergeron, cello; Jeffrey Adkins, contrabass; Karen Fuller Dixon, flute; Erika Yamada, oboe; Michael Forte, clarinet; Michael Ellert, bassoon, and Eva Conti, French horn.
The festival continues this week with performances at 7:30 tonight 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.