Chamber Music Review



Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival - Program Four

July 17, 2007 - Swannanoa, NC:


This is the thirty-eighth season of the Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival, based at Warren Wilson College and performing there and in Hendersonville and Waynesville.

Program Four consisted of Beethoven's Opus 25, the Serenade in D, Antonín Reicha's Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 88/2, and Dmitry Shostakovich's Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67.

Kettridge Theatre is a lofty cast-concrete box. Its acoustics have been quite successfully balanced and enhanced. It's mostly painted black; there's an enormous ominous lightbridge, which we aren't supposed to admit we've seen, because it too is painted black and is thus "invisible." But just beneath the lightbridge hangs a truly magic lighted mobile. The artist is Laird Lanier, a disciple of Alexander Calder. The Kittredge lobby is full of Lanier's ocean-theme mobiles made of various metals, but the auditorium mobile, "Dandelion," a light and airy thing, is made of glass optical fibers, wire, wood and acrylic. It represents the instant after one makes a wish and blows on a cluster of dandelion seeds. Light-emitting diodes in the heart of each seed project light through the fiber optics to show a myriad of little lights. Festival Director Frank Ell had the house lights extinguished briefly so that "Dandelion" could be fully appreciated. It fits well with the minimalist, oriental feeling of elegance that pervades this black hall with its white acoustical shell and outrageously over-the-top flower arrangements.*

I really like the nakedness of chamber music: there they are on the stage without so much as a musical fig leaf for cover. Every note is completely exposed and audible. There's no place to hide if you lose your place or miss a page turn. The Beethoven Serenade (played by Tyra Gilb, flute, Karyn Blake, violin, and Simon Ertz, viola) opens with just such an exposed theme on the flute, including a long string of repeated notes; this is accomplished with tonguing on the flute and up-and-down bowing on the violin, and it seemed much easier to the string players. Everyone's intonation was flawless; I found Gilb's flute tone somewhat shrill. Kittredge Theatre's acoustics and the precise playing of this ensemble gave a wonderful sense of presence, a very personal here-we-are quality that is very well suited to naked music. The third movement, allegro molto, had a powerful sense of going somewhere; it was nice to see that these players actually look at each other. The andante con variazioni began wonderfully deliberately slow, then fell into divisions that double the tempo. Both Blake and Ertz have a nice sound of gut, hair, and wood, not at all like a tone generator. Beethoven resorted to simultaneous double stops for both instruments; both players executed the double strops in a way that sounded like an additional two instruments — it was very convincing.

The allegro scherzando was short and sweet.

Both the adagio and the concluding allegro vivace e disinvolto showed very careful playing and coordination, without any feeling of being rehearsed. This serenade has much of the feeling of Eine kleine Nachtmusik, but the Beethoven quirk is there as well and was well exploited by the trio.

The Reicha quintet was played by Gilb, Keve Wilson, oboe, Frank Ell, clarinet, John Kehayas, bassoon, and William Hoyt, horn. Really nice playing characterized this piece, which is mechanically quite complex, without any of the depth of the Beethoven. This was played jolly and fast and a little giddy but without a cloud in the sky, like real champagne music. There were some smooth cantileno parts for the horn, some tantarratan hunting-call lines, and sometimes some bass lines, all equally well played. The bassoon had a lot of lightning-fast machine-gun runs up and down the whole creation of the range. The oboe was smooth and singing in the poco andante grazioso.

The program concluded with Shostakovich's Trio No. 2 in E minor (with Inessa Zaretsky, piano, Karyn Blake, violin, and Philip van Maltzahn, cello). Even if the program notes had not told us that Shostakovich's "private" division of his work conveys "the composer's inner feeling that he knew he couldn't express openly in the repressive society of his time," I'm sure we would have picked it up from this lament. Shostakovich was crying out for the many people who were dying in the Holocaust, using traditional folksongs contrasted with extremely modern and harsh writing. His slow haunting melodies appear like seeing a photo in an otherwise incomprehensible Cyrillic-alphabet newspaper. My seatmate said, "If this had come on the radio I would have tuned to something else; I would have missed this. I would never have chosen to listen to this. But now that I have, I'm very glad I heard it." I entirely agree, especially when the playing is this fine.

*For a brief view see: http://www.movingsculpture.com/MovingSculpture_Images/images/Dandelion_NoPlayers_1024.jpg.