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BDDS: Schubert, Brahms, Jutt

Schubert: Lebensstürme for piano four-hands
Brahms: Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25
Stephanie Jutt: Private Lessons

Jeffrey Sykes, piano
Stefanie Jacob, piano
Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio, violin
Sally Chisholm, viola
Mathias Wexler, cello
Stephanie Jutt, flute


Opening a miniseries of two concerts at the Isthmus Playhouse Monday evening, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society once again displayed its unique mixture of solid music-making interspersed with light-hearted humor. Programmed under the suggestive theme "Heavy Breathing," the concert setting was a delightful art installation by David Wells, featuring folded wire mesh pieces floating in space and spotlighted by cherry, orange, and deep blue lights. The shapes suggested creatures of deep sea: delicate, self-illuminating, and graceful. But the music that took place in this space was terrestrial and solid.

Pianists Jeffrey Sykes and Stefanie Jacob undertook Schubert's Lebensstürme for piano four-hands. It's a terrific piece, symphonic in texture and grandeur, but as usual with Schubert, permeated by the most wonderful lyricism in a setting of extraordinary harmonic richness. It was first-rate playing, too, of a technically very demanding score. People not familiar with four-hand playing would probably have noticed the players' often tricky negotiation for physical space in the middle of the keyboard.

Prefacing the performance of Brahms's Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25 with a brief account of her first hearing and immediately falling in love with this incredible masterpiece, Jacob was joined by violinist Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio, violist Sally Chisholm, and cellist Mathias Wexler for what I can only call a truly great performance. The technical difficulty of the string writing -- Brahms was not kind to string players, that's for sure -- seemed to pose no problem whatever for Sant'Ambrogio, Chisholm and Wexler. Jacob was also in complete command of her huge and sprawling part. Each of the four movements was stunningly beautiful in its own right, but as you might expect there was something extra-special about the slow movement (andante con moto) and the work's conclusion, the whirlwind Gypsy rondo, which brought the capacity audience at once to its feet with shouts and whoops and wild applause.

After intermission, Sykes and flutist Stephanie Jutt performed Jutt's Private Lessons, a narrative with music based on Jutt's life as a young girl in Stockton, California -- a town symbolizing all those places that are far from anywhere interesting -- where she attended a Catholic school and yearned to be chosen Queen of the May. In a series of scenes, many of them very funny but many also very touching, Jutt's life, in school and out, progresses to the point where the sound of the flute finally possesses her and gives her young life meaning and direction. Learning to play (referring to the work's title) and at last crossing the wide continent to study at the New England Conservatory, Jutt finally landed on the path that would lead to much brilliant playing and to her position on the faculty at the School of Music. Although there were many musical interludes, some wistful and some campy, what stood out in the end (the work was a bit on the long side) was a lovely performance of the flute solo from Ravel's ballet suite Daphnis and Chloe. Whatever twistings and turnings Jutt's life has taken, she's here now, and it seems to me the playing makes up for any confusion and unhappiness in her youth.

Isthmus, July, 1995
Copyright 1995 Jess Anderson

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