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In the most amateur way, I have done some digital music editing. Like making laws and sausage, it's not a pretty sight. The outcome, as we know from so many wonderful CDs, can be spectacular; the result often seems bigger and better than life. But I don't think so. I think live music, presented, like Cromwell, warts and all, is the ultimate glory.
The music is pretty glorious at John O'Brien's "Music House" on Fifth Street in Greenville. The Music House is the 1902 Jesse Moye house, lovingly restored and enhanced with period wallpapers a music room that seats 70, a kitchen that turns out fine hors d'oeuvres, and a capacious dining room for wine and hors d'oeuvres. The Music House series is true chamber music, with all the intimacy, mostly for the better (but occasionally for the worse), just like any other of life's intimacies. There aren't many secrets in a double bed or in a home music room.
Spokane, Washington, was settled in 1871; ten years later, it was incorporated as a city. The completion of the Northern Pacific Railway connected Spokane in one way or another to the great metropolises of Europe and North America. Huge amounts of money were being made, and the newly-rich were hungry for culture. David Dutton and Beverly Biggs combed the Spokane papers from the 1880s to the 1910s and discovered a huge repertoire that was performed on the stages (some of them in farm-equipment warehouses) and in the churches, which frequently served as concert venues. From these rich resources, they put together a program that offered a delightful insight into highbrow Spokane around the turn of the century.
Biggs and Dutton (along with impresario O'Brien) are members of Baroque and Beyond; their biographies can be seen at http://baroqueandbeyond.org/musicians.
Dutton plays the oboe and also built Biggs's fortepiano, a copy of a Stein made in Augsburg in 1784. Its delicate action, wide dynamic range, and overall sound made it a reasonable, if somewhat anachronistic, choice for the music played today. As Biggs observed, not everyone threw away a perfectly good piano when it became a little outmoded. Much chamber music was played on well-maintained old instruments. Mozart was played in Spokane; Stein was Mozart's favorite builder. Including Mozart, the birth and death dates of the composers on this program span years from 1756 to 1903. All in all, the Stein was an unarguably better choice than a nine-foot Model D Steinway.
The opening "Rêverie" (Op. 114, No. 1, by B.C. Fauconier) gave a nice introduction to what we could expect, in terms of composition, musical sound, and performance ability. It was followed by the "Chant de L'Almee" of Léo Delibes. This was executed with the highest skill, but it is still humorous in a way Delibes never intended. Its downbeat, desert-island, come-my-love, snake-charmer style explains very clearly what bad silent film accompanists were so unsuccessfully aspiring to.
Mozart's Divertimento in B-flat (listed as K.Anh. 229) was the major piece of serious music in the first half of the concert. It was pleasant throughout; I especially liked the brisk tempo of the Adagio. The Rondo was quite fast also. Unfortunately TB season was not over, and the Divertimento, of all the pieces they played, included a catarrh obbligato.
Luigi Arditi's "Parla Waltz" was delightful, and played to the hilt!
Following intermission, which included six wines to taste and some delicious salmon on crackers, Dutton and Biggs opened the second half of the evening with Anton Rubinstein's "Romance," Op. 64, No. 1. The playing was absolutely beautiful. One of the inevitable intimacies of live chamber music occurred in this piece, when Biggs lost her place. With complete aplomb, they agreed on a measure and began to play again, and all bad vibrations were erased.
From Stephen C. Foster's The Social Orchestra, known to have been performed in golden Spokane, Dutton and Biggs selected "Ton-Marchen Waltz-Gung'l," in which Dutton's oboe finally quacked like ducks in the style I prefer; "Anadolia," which taxed Dutton to the respiratory limit; "La Serenade – Schubert," the beautiful performance of which sounded like an amalgam of every poignant Merchant Ivory theme; and an incredibly beautiful performance of "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair."
Chopin's Valse, Op. 64, No. 1 (yes, the "Minute Waltz," perfect for a Spokane audience, and nicely played, too), was followed by selections from Michael W. Balfe's The Bohemian Girl: "Is No Succor Near" and "I Dreamt That I Dwelt In Marble Halls." "Is No Succor Near" is another silent movie piece, on the order of "Then the train began to come and then he tied her to the railroad track and then...." "Marble Halls" is another piece perfectly partaking of the taste of the 1870s. These pieces keep us humble; there's no pretending that people 120 years from now will not look at us and our pretensions as we look at Victorian Spokane.
The concert concluded with Theodore Lalliet's "Prelude and Variations on the Carnival of Venice," Op. 20. The intensity of the oboe and the intimacy of the piano are strong reminders of the way that people came to know music in an age without CDs or iPods.
Note: For recordings of some of these works by these artists, see http://www.forrestsmusic.com/oboe_recordings_page1.htm.