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At historic St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Pan Harmonia’s artistic director and flutist Kate Steinbeck was joined by Fred Lemmons, clarinet and Rosalind Buda, bassoon in works by six composers for various combinations of flute, clarinet and bassoon.
Robert Muczynski (1929-2010) was an American composer, born and educated in Chicago, who spent the majority of his career as composer-in-residence and composition professor at the University of Arizona – Tucson. Walter Simmons posted a cogent description of his music at the on-line site NewMusicBox: “a friendly modernism — tonal but not reactionary, peppered with light dissonance and energetic asymmetries of rhythm — always expertly tailored to highlight the artistry of the performer in a manner idiomatic to the featured instrument.” Certainly this describes his five-movement Fragments from 1960, which opened Sunday’s concert. The five short movements included "Waltz" (featuring a mellow clarinet in its lower register), "Solitude" (demonstrating a beautiful blend of sonorities of all three instruments), a very short "Holiday," an extended and gracious "Reverie" and an upbeat "Exit."
The concert continued with "Blues" and "Rag," the second and third movements of American Miniatures, a three-movement work for flute and clarinet by English composer John Rutter. The instruments are cleverly entwined in "Blues," with use of the two clarinet registers to give almost an illusion of three-part counterpoint, but Rutter is too refined a composer to really give us down and dirty blues. The flute is dominant in "Rag," with the clarinet providing a rhythmic bass but then taking over the thematic material in an interlude in the middle. Rutter was more convincing with his ragtime.
Rosalind Buda described Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for clarinet and bassoon as having moments when she thought she was “dodging cars in Paris.” I could see her point in the first movement Allegro; after a shrill start, Poulenc keeps interposing quarter-note rests at unexpected moments. The tranquil second movement Romance is based on a downward major scale, sometimes descending a full octave and sometimes providing variations after four or five notes. Quite beautiful. The final movement (entitled Final) has allusions to the descending scale but in a totally irreverent manner.
The American composer Mabel Daniels (1878-1971) was a typical New Englander: a Radcliffe graduate, Unitarian, a composition student of George W. Chadwick, and the first-ever female composition student at the Royal Conservatory in Munich, where she worked with Ludwig Thuille. She obviously also had a sense of humor; her 3 Observations, Opus 41, are entitled "Ironic," "Canonic," and "Tangonic." The first movement is lyrical but quirky. The second movement is a complex canon, as suggested by the title, and ends with a beautiful final chord. The third movement begins with a clarinet riff, has a mid-movement accelerando and in the recapitulation features a bassoon riff to echo the clarinet. This is a fine neoclassical work from the mid-20th century that I hope to hear again.
Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Choros #2 was written in the 1920’s for flute and clarinet. As with all the pieces entitled Choros (there were fifteen in all, but some have been lost), they were an attempt to capture the music of street musicians and incorporate elements of Brazilian folk music.
The final work on the concert was Charles Koechlin’s Trio for flute, clarinet and bassoon. Written in 1927 (and sometimes performed by the conventional string trio), this is a delightful contrapuntal work. The movements are Lent, Moderato and Allegro con Moto. Each movement gets happier, with the finale containing a very jolly theme with repeated notes resembling a last laugh.
This review has concentrated on the composers and compositions, and hasn’t said much about the players. Only when I reflect upon the concert did I realize just how well these three Pan Harmonia woodwind players performed; they never were obtrusive. Well over a hundred attendees had shared the treat of hearing convincing performances of these unfamiliar works.