Chamber Music Review Print



"Color Contrasts" and Textures

July 20, 2003 - Raleigh, NC:


The third and concluding recital in the inaugural season of the summer chamber music series "Overtones" was held in Bösendorfer Hall at Ruggero Piano at 3:00 p.m. on July 20 before an audience that didn't quite fill half of the 120-seat room. It featured the chamber group Mélange, composed of pianist John Ruggero, his sister clarinetist Linda Julian, and her husband, bassoonist Jonathan Julian (The couple is based in Winston-Salem). On the first half they played Beethoven's clarinet Trio, Op. 38, arranged by the composer in 1805 from his Septet for violin, viola, cello, bass, horn, clarinet, and bassoon, Op. 20, composed in 1800. The bassoon substituted for the cello in this performance.

The work is in six movements rather than the customary four, very much in the classical mode, a kind of heir to the serenade that was originally intended for performance out of doors. The original version would probably have been a bit loud in this fairly live hall, but the trio's volume level and balance were just fine. The clarinet stood out slightly as it should, and the bassoon gave the support that the listener often didn't realize was there. In spite of the lid being fully open, the piano did not dominate or drown out the winds. The second movement, Andante cantabile, was especially lovely, and the fourth, Andante con Variazioni was also very nice. The concluding Presto moved right along at a clip. The entire performance was smooth, the blend of the two wind instruments giving a creamy texture to the sound. It was a delightful performance.

Cellist Jonathan Kramer replaced Jonathan Julian after intermission for a performance of Viennese composer Alexander Zemlinsky's all-too-rarely played clarinet Trio, Op. 3, dating from 1896, the other end of the same century. Zemlinsky is among the composers whose music was suppressed by the Nazis, and who fled them, coming to the USA in 1938 and dying in Larchmont, NY, in 1942. His musical style varied a great deal over the course of his life, but this earlier work is very much in the late-Romantic mode, and it is indeed the works in that style which are most remembered today.

The work is in three movements. The second, Andante, is especially nice, with a hauntingly lovely opening and recurring melody, and the third, Allegro, shows some Klezmer influences. The balance between the instruments here was good, although the piano was occasionally a bit too dominant. It was a joy to hear this fine work and to hear it so well played. It also made for an interesting pairing and contrast with the opening work, both in its style and in its texture, which is a good blend, but less of a purée due to the presence of the stringed instrument.

Programming for the series is done by John Ruggero, who also writes the fine program notes. This recital could also have been said to have a Viennese connection, since the piano is of Viennese manufacture, and both works were written there. Beethoven was born in Germany, but he emigrated to Vienna in 1794 and all of his music was composed there. It was a rich and richly rewarding afternoon.

The audience was enthusiastic in its applause, and was rewarded with two encores. Jonathan Kramer announced that, after the last Overtones concert, he did indeed make it to Boone - with two minutes to spare before the downbeat of Beethoven's Leonore Overture - so he offered, with Ruggero at the keyboard, the encore he had not been able to play then: Rachmaninov's romantic and melodic Vocalise. Mélange followed offering a movement from Mendelssohn's delightful and light Konzertstück No. 1, Op. 113, for clarinet, basset horn (here bassoon), and piano.