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BDDS: Roussel, Faure, Messaien

Roussel: Trio, Op. 40 (1930)
Gabriel Fauré: Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 15
Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time (1941)

Stephanie Jutt, flute
Young-Nam Kim, violin
Sally Chisholm, viola
Parry Karp, cello
Diana Haskell, clarinet
Jeffrey Sykes, piano


If they allowed themselves to be put off by the whimsy of the name Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, people would be missing a Very Good Thing, because this chamber-music group comprises top-flight performers and presents completely wonderful concerts. Monday evening at the Isthmus Playhouse, the BDDS held us spellbound with a very serious program of works by Roussel, Fauré and Messiaen.

Flutist Stephanie Jutt, violist Sally Chisholm, and cellist Parry Karp opened the program with Roussel's Trio, Op. 40 (1930). Though certainly tinged with a fair measure of the Gallic wit typical of Roussel, the Trio is an especially serious piece, balancing the lyricism of long, delicate flute lines against the full range of string color in its exquisite slow movement. In the quick movements, brilliant passage-work -- very demanding to play -- does not obscure the essentially lyrical aspects embedded in its rhythmic complexity. As for the playing, I'm out of superlatives before I even start: it was just plain fabulous, and it only got better.

To call the Fauré Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 15 (1876) a hard piece would be a sizable understatement. It is simply fiendishly difficult, though pianist Jeffrey Sykes and violinist Young-Nam Kim, who joined Chisholm and Karp, didn't seem that taxed by its demands, even in the swirling Scherzo (allegro vivo) and very fleet finale (allegro molto). The work, as Sykes pointed out, was conceived as an antidote to the convoluted aesthetic of Wagner, then casting its pall over European music. This accounts for a certain amiability in its opening movement (allegro molto moderato) without forswearing great seriousness in its extended slow movement (adagio). This was my first hearing of violinist Kim, and I came away hoping he's a permanent rather than a temporary fixture of our local musical scene. Good as he was, it would not be accurate to single him out, for the performance achieved chamber music's most elusive goal: unity among equal partners.

After the interval came Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time (1941). Written under the most improbable conditions in a Nazi POW camp, this hour-long, eight-movement work encompasses the composer's typical imagery (nature and religion) in a musical texture of great variety. The performance was as passionate as can be imagined, which is to say it was overwhelming. Together with clarinetist Diana Haskell, Kim, Karp and Sykes somehow went beyond the limits of mere mortality. Linda Clauder read various texts before each of the movements, though I think this idea -- not part of the original conception -- didn't really add anything to the music itself and should be dispensed with on future occasions.

Though I don't suppose anything can be done about it, the Isthmus Playhouse is not a suitably reverberant place, which takes a noticeable acoustic toll off the top of performances as brilliant as these. But the very intimate contact with the music it affords a small audience is well worth the sacrifice. In no other venue I've been in the last dozen years has the audience been as still and attentive as it was at this event. To reiterate an earlier point, quality commands attention, and this event proved it. In a word: it was a magnificent concert. Thank you, all, and more -- much more -- please!

Isthmus, July, 1993
Copyright 1993 Jess Anderson

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