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Chamber Music Review

BMC's Celebratory Tribute to the late Bill Boggs, Jr.

June 20, 2008 - Brevard, NC:

Thirteen members of the distinguished Brevard Music Center faculty paid fond tribute to their former colleague, the late William G. "Bill" Boggs, Jr., with a magnificent evening of chamber music. A member of the BMC staff since 1974, Boggs was Director of Finance and Operations at the time of his death in February 2008. For his dedicated service, he was awarded the 2008 Distinguished Service Award by the Board of Trustees in November 2007. This honor will be presented posthumously at the August 3rd concert in BMC's Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium featuring, in addition to other works, Saint-Saëns' "Organ Symphony," a nod to Boggs's love of the instrument.

The program opened with the first movement of Mozart's Sonata in A, K.526, performed by violinist Byron Tauchi and pianist Bruce Murray. The choice of this opener set the celebratory tone of the evening. Mozart's ebullient music was flawlessly executed by both players, with meticulous attention paid to phrasing, articulation, and balance. Due to the length of the program, and, I guess, in order to include as many different performers as possible, only selected movement(s) of this and two other works were programmed.

Next was the elegiac and lyrical Andante from the Trio for Clarinet and Bassoon by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), the bassoon part transcribed into a satisfactory arrangement for cello, played by Ann Cohen, who performed with clarinetist Steven Cohen and Murray again at the piano.

The heavyweight of the first half was Charles Martin Loeffler's Deux Rhapsodies, lasting just over 20 minutes, and played by Eric Ohlsson, oboe, Scott Rawls, viola, and Deloise Lima, piano. German-born Loeffler (1861-1935) emigrated to the US in 1881 and became a citizen in 1887. Though he embraced American music, Loeffler's style reveals the influence of the French impressionists, evident in the piece's wash of colors, chords in parallel motion, pentatonic scales, and the blurring of its tonal center. Deux Rhapsodies, composed in 1898 for voice, clarinet, viola, and piano to song texts by M. Rollinat, was never performed and was rewritten in 1901. In order to properly balance the piano with the viola and oboe, the piano was placed at a slight angle away from the audience. "L'Étang," the opening movement, whose original text referenced an "eerie, sinister pond," began darkly in the viola but quickly blossomed into a brighter sonorous color, leading to a faster, sprightly middle section. The return to the dark affekt and thematic material of the opening section cast its intended, poignant spell over the audience. The text, originally set to "La Cornemuse," delineated "the ghostly music of a dead man's bagpipe," really creepy when programmed within the context of a memorial concert. With the text absent, however, the piece merely sounded folksy, with frequent drones supporting plaintive Bartókian melodic flourishes, the piece's principal rhetorical gesture. Ohlsson's and Rawls' playing was simply outstanding and the cumulative effect, stunning!

After intermission, Murray returned to the piano to collaborate with Joseph Lulloff, soprano saxophone, on all three movements of the Sonata in G minor, H.542.5, by C.P.E. Bach (1714-88). Usually I'm turned off by the use of sax in a baroque work originally written for violin or flute, but Lulloff's superior musicianship completely won me over and drew the evening's loudest applause. The duo's formidable chops were exhibited to perfection in this sonata that functioned more like an Italian concerto with expansive ritornellos and multiple opportunities for virtuosic display. The weighty, driving, and densely written passagework of the first movement, and the ornamental, lyrical slow second movement (executed by Lulloff with perfectly timed embellishments), coupled with the tight, incessantly overlapping polyphonic exchanges of the last movement, call to mind a second compositional influence — that of papa J.S. Bach.

Following this showstopper were the opening Allegro and Larghetto movements of Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A, K.581, performed by Eric Ginsburg, clarinet, Byron Tauchi and Thomas Joiner, violins, Anna Joiner, viola, and Carlton McCreery, cello. While I admired Ginsburg's thoroughly beautiful tone, in general the opening movement was played rather perfunctorily by the ensemble, at a clip. The second movement fared much better, as it was infused with more nuance and warmth.

Douglas Weeks ended the program with another French connection, a rousing rendition of Claude Debussy's "L'Isle Joyeuse."

I also knew Bill Boggs and, like his BMC colleagues, greatly admired his dedication and industry. I feel sure he would have been pleased with the musical offerings of the evening and, as was so typical of his self-effacing demeanor, deeply humbled by this loving tribute from his friends.

Note: The Brevard Music Festival continues through August 10. For details, click here.