A Chamber Series Extravaganza
SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA’s Chamber Music Director and Host, Geoff Nuttall, promised an extravaganza for the ninth concert Wednesday afternoon at the Dock Street Theatre. He and his musical friends delivered.
In a darkened theatre, Todd Palmer, clarinetist extraordinaire, performed contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan’s haunting From Galloway. Without being in evidence, Palmer’s clarinet filled the theatre with the accessible and lyrical music that was more calming than frightening or abstract.
Already on the stage, Tara Helen O’Connor, flute, Daniel Phillips, violin, and Christopher Costanza, cello began on a more festive air with Franz Josef Haydn’s Trio in D Major, Op. 38, No. 6. This brief three-movement work allowed each participant the opportunity to demonstrate their keen understanding of Haydn’s lighter side, with the first and third movements being bouncy and spirited.
To provide not only something completely different from the usual chamber music fare, but enormously entertaining and funny, the St. Lawrence String Quartet and Anthony Manzo, double bass, presented Lucy and the Count (Love Dreams from Transylvania) by American composer James Deak (b. 1943) who was principal double bassist with the New York Philharmonic (1973-2009). With an over-the-top narration by Todd Duncan, the musicians presented the story with clever use of their instruments. Beyond that, it is unfair to reveal the unexpected in this frothy pastiche.
A forerunner of and influence on Johann Sebastian Bach, Bohemia-Austrian composer Heinrich Franz von Biber (1644-1704) was a gifted composer and violinist (he contributed to violin technique). He explored scoratura tuning, or alternative tuning, which allows for altered pitch on open strings resulting in unexpected and strange sounding violin timbres. Geoff Nuttall and Livia Sohn, violins, Chrisopher Costanza, cello, and Peja Muzijevic, harpsichord tackled with great success Biber’s five-movement Harmonia Artificioso-Ariosa, Partita V for Two Violins, Continuo, and Harpsichord. They pulled off this rarely heard Baroque piece with scoratura and all.
Closing the concert was a disappointing reading of Franz Schubert’s Duo in A Major, D. 574 by violinist Sohn and pianist Stephen Prutsman. There was no sense of legato in the performance, and rubato was not employed. In other words, no smooth musical line and no tempo variations. It was just dull.
There will be an additional performances of the same music on Thursday at 11 am and 1 pm.