By Dennis D. Rooney
The fourth and final program of the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival’s 27th season was composed of a local premiere and two works of 20th-century composers on its first half, and Schubert’s Trout Quintet on its second.
Clarinetist Michael Forte’s prefatory remarks mentioned that Piotr Szewczyk (b. 1978), composer of Three Summer Sketches that opened the program, was a Florida composer resident in Jacksonville, where he has been a violinist in the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra since 2007. He is also an active composer with a catalogue of 72 works in various genres.
Three Summer Sketches dates from 2002 and have been described by their composer as “virtuosic and playful.” The opening Allegro (“Playful”) has two contrasting slower sections embedded within. “Pensive” describes the mood of the second sketch’s opening material that contrasts with a succeeding livelier middle section. The final sketch (“Lively”) continues the strong suggestion of Stravinsky’s spiky rhythms, but without the elder composer’s pervasive humor. Forte, along with violinist Mei Mei Luo and Michael Ellert, bassoon, shaped the nine or so minutes of music most enjoyably during Sunday’s performance at the Crest Theatre in Delray Beach.
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) created his Deux Interludes of 1949 from his incidental music for Le Burlador, a 1946 treatment of the Don Juan legend. The interludes are an Andante espressivo followed by an Allegro vivo, respectively evoking France then Spain, a pairing beloved of French composers from Massenet to Ravel.
A classic minuet, slow and somewhat elegiac at first, becomes more animated then returns to the mood of the opening. The harp rhythmically anchors the violin and flute duet. Gallic poise surrenders to Iberian intensity in the second interlude, an Andalusian gypsy dance. The harp evokes the rasgueado of the guitar while the violin and flute suggest the eloquence of cante jondo. Luo, flutist Karen Fuller, and harpist Deborah Fleisher effectively evoked both moods.
A 1957 Serenade by John Addison (1920-1998) was next. This time, Fleisher’s harp was surrounded by a wind quintet. Addison, a pupil of Gordon Jacob, composed a number of concert works, but his greatest success came through his film scores, which he later extended to television. At London’s Royal College of Music, he studied oboe and clarinet with two of their greatest practitioners, Léon Goossens and Frederick Thurston, respectively, and Addison became known for his individual characterization of various instruments in his scores.
The fourth and fifth movements of the Serenade are for clarinet, bassoon, flute and harp in the first; and oboe, flute, horn and harp in the second. The other movements are an opening Invention (Allegro) and Intermezzo (Andante cantabile) played without pause, Toccata (Allegro energico) and Finale (Allegro vivace). The music was as much a discovery for the performers (in addition to Fleisher, Fuller, Forte and Ellert, they were oboist Erika Yamada and hornist Eva Conti) as the audience, but the players were better acquainted as they had the advantage of rehearsing it, which showed.
Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828) wrote over 600 songs during his brief life. He later composed variations on some of them in his chamber works, among which is the Quintet in A for piano and strings (D. 667), The Trout. The song Die Forelle dates from 1817 and describes an observer looking at the splashing of a trout in “a clear stream.” The quintet dates from 1819. The song had become popular, and a wealthy patron asked Schubert to include variations on it in the quintet, which they do in its fourth movement.
It has subsequently become one of the most frequently performed works of Schubert, despite its slightly unusual instrumentation in which a double bass is added to a piano quartet (violin, viola and cello). The result is something a bit more informal in sound, the bass (played by Janet Clippard) providing a comfortably plummy sonority to the lower end of the ensemble that is distinctly gemütlich. A similar tinge was in founding cellist Susan Bergeron’s prefatory remarks, in which she bade her colleagues during the festival’s four weeks and the audience a fond farewell for another year.
Pianist Marina Radiushina had the misfortune to play a rather aggressively voiced Baldwin piano, which did nothing to enhance the sound of her upper register, particularly in the purling unisons and octaves of her part. She also articulated the “Trout” theme rather squarely. Otherwise, the playing of violinist Dina Kostic, violist René Reder and cellist Bergeron was relaxed, but sometimes lacked the rhythmic insistence that would have raised the performance from agreeable to memorable.