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Dolce Suono’s dialogue with DebussyBY: Tom Purdom 02.19.2013
Dolce Suono exploited an extra-special Old School Tie and continued its celebration of Debussy’s 150th birthday with a program that included a composer Debussy didn’t like.
Dolce Suono: “Dialogue of the Winds.” Saint-Saëns, Tarantella for Flute, Clarinet, and Piano; Debussy, Premier-rhapsodie for Clarinet and Piano; Prélude a l’après-midi d’un faune; Mozart, Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano in E flat Major; Shostakovich, Four Waltzes for Flute, Clarinet and Piano. Mimi Stillman, flute, Anthony McGill, clarinet, Burchard Tang, viola; Charles Abramovic, piano. February 17, 2013 at Trinity Center, 2212 Spruce St. (267) 252-1803 or www.dolcesuono.com.
If Debussy could talk….TOM PURDOM
Here’s a formula for an irresistible chamber music program. Schedule two of the world’s top wind players. Back them up with a pianist of the caliber of Charles Abramovic. Team them with another important regional resource, like the Philadelphia Orchestra violist Burchard Tang. Give them some of the greatest music composed for their instruments.
Dolce Suono’s latest concert followed that recipe to the letter, with a program headlined by flutist Mimi Stillman and guest clarinetist Anthony McGill. Stillman, of course, is Dolce Suono’s artistic director as well as a familiar performer to Philadelphia chamber music enthusiasts. McGill is the Metropolitan Opera’s principal clarinet and the current clarinetist of choice whenever major chamber ensembles schedule a work that includes the clarinet.
I’ve followed both their careers since Stillman and McGill studied together at Curtis. I’ve had fewer opportunities to hear McGill, but he’s obviously in the same class as Stillman. Like Stillman, he has matured into a true artist, combining precision with the kind of expressiveness that brings out all of the clarinet’s poetic possibilities.
A good chamber music program provides some of the feel of a jazz jam session, and the resemblance is heightened when the musicians play wind instruments. They may follow written scores rather than improvise, but they still work off each other and put their personal stamp on the music.
The opening Tarantella by Saint-Saëns was a textbook example of that interplay, with two perfectly blended instruments interlacing over Charles Abramovic’s piano. The tarantella is a wild dance, based on the theory that frenzied motion would cure the bite of a tarantula. Saint-Saëns captured that whirling wildness, but he varied it with slower, gentler passages, creating a charming showpiece for both winds.
The concert was titled “Dialogue of the Winds,” and the dialogue continued with two Debussy pieces that showed off the virtues of both instruments— Debussy’s first Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano, and the Afternoon of a Faun, arranged for flute and piano.
Both are major, likeable pieces, and they received major, likeable performances. McGill produced an evocative reading that ranged over a spectrum of poetic moods. Stillman followed him with a performance that proved she can do the same thing on the flute.
Mozart sneaks in
Dolce Suono is devoting all of its programs this season to Debussy’s 150th birthday. All the pieces on each program are supposed to be related to Debussy in some way, but Stillman seems flexible on this point.
The second half, for example, opened with a trio for clarinet, viola and piano by a composer Debussy hated: Mozart. The trio appeared on the program because McGill, Tang and Abramovic had all put it on the top of their personal play lists.
The title of Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” trio is usually translated “bowling alley,” but you shouldn’t picture a noisy indoor establishment with the 18th-Century equivalent of beer and burgers. The “alley” was really an outdoor lane on an aristocrat’s estate, where Mozart played with his musician friends.
I can see why Dolce Suono’s musicians liked playing the trio, but here Mozart seemed to have succumbed to a bout of modesty. He played the viola when he performed the ”Kegelstatt” with his friends, and the music he composed for the other instruments upstages the part he wrote for himself.
Shostakovich at the movies
For the concert’s finale, the clarinet and the flute shared the stage for one of the 20th Century’s most appealing examples of high grade hack work: Shostakovich’s Four Waltzes for Flute, Clarinet and Piano.
Shostakovich originally wrote these waltzes as screen scores, during a time when he was playing it safe: composing for movies approved by the Soviet Communist dictatorship. He could have given his employers a routine product. Instead, he did what real artists often do in that situation. He gave the job the best he had to offer, composing four of the most beautiful waltzes any composer ever committed to paper— four highly refined works without a hint of schmaltz.
The first bounces like a polka. The fourth radiates a swing that conjures classic images of couples gliding across a ballroom. The others include effects like a piccolo interlude that contrasts the piccolo’s high bird whistle with a clarinet line that includes hints of a fairground carousel.
The winds were the afternoon’s stars, but none of these pieces would have worked without Charles Abramovic’s contributions. He played in every selection, and the piano always provided the moods and contrasts that turn duos and trios into lively conversations. For the astute listener, the dialogue with the piano was just as rewarding as the dialogue of the winds.♦
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