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BDDS: Brahms, Schwantner, Schaphorst, Chausson

Brahms: New Liebeslieder Walztes, Op. 65
Joseph Schwantner: Music of Amber
Kenneth Schaphorst: Jobim
Chausson: Concert Op. 21

Jennifer Fitch, soprano
Merrette Rentmeester, mezzo-soprano
Calland Metts, tenor
Douglas Webster, baritone
Jeffrey Sykes, piano
Stefanie Jacob, piano
Stephanie Jutt, flute
Christine Baade, clarinet
Suzanne Beia, violin
Parry Karp, cello
Dane Richeson, percussion


Performing beneath a colorful, playful and lyrical sculpture installation by David Wells, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society presented the first of two concerts celebrating its 5th season Monday evening at the Isthmus theater. It was an exciting program of the highest-quality chamber music performance.

The program opened with Brahms's New Liebeslieder Walztes, Op. 65 for vocal quartet and piano four-hands. Suave and utterly gorgeous, this cycle of 15 short songs surveys the various emotions of love with great wit and sophistication. Soprano Jennifer Fitch, mezzo Merrette Rentmeester, tenor Calland Metts, and baritone Douglas Webster played out the interchanges of their amorous characters with truly lovely voices, generally clear diction, and subtle nuances. Pianists Jeffrey Sykes and Stefanie Jacob provided a solid and engaging foundation for Brahms' always delightful shifts of rhythms and harmonies.

Shifting rhythms and harmonies were the central aspects of the next work, Joseph Schwantner's Music of Amber for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion. Written in 1981, the two movements of this 21-minute work hauntingly evoke a mood of primordial flux, with an amazing array of timbral and rhythmic effects. Unusual articulations of all the instruments, for instance bowing the edges of chimes and the bars of the vibraphone or overblowing the flute, greatly extend the scope of the work's tonal palette. The performance was simply extraordinary. Flutist Stephanie Jutt, clarinetist Christine Baade, violinist Suzanne Beia, cellist Parry Karp, pianist Stefanie Jacob, and percussionist Dane Richeson all played with great intensity. The piece is primarily a percussion work, featuring a large collection of instruments: drums, tam-tam, gongs, vibraphone, bells, cymbals, and triangles. Richeson is a truly remarkable artist whose many skills verge on the fantastic, managing nearly simultaneous sounding of these instruments with a large set of different beaters. If "wow" can be a verb, I was wowwed!

Richeson also involved the good-sized audience in a light-hearted performance of Kenneth Schaphorst's Jobim (1996). Following a short rehearsal showing audience members how to handle four rain sticks (think of tumbling beads inside a hollow tube) and how to produce a background murmur by rubbing our hands together, he and Jutt, Baade, Beia, Karp and Jacob joined in to realize this free-form score that evokes the spirit of the Brazilian master.

BDDS concerts always feature some mixture of ultra-serious music and fun. There is always a mystery guest, in this case John Stevens of the School of Music, giving a hilarious pseudo-lecture, with musical examples, showing how all of opera is really derived from music for the tuba. The examples were the aria "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot and the "Serenade" from Sigmund Romberg's The Student Prince. To give you an idea of the high level of scholarship involved here, Prof. Stevens explained that Puccini is Italian for "small dog."

The second half of the program was devoted to Ernest Chausson's Concert Op. 21 for violin, piano and string quartet. The BDDS regularly champions music that is not well known, a very good thing to do. But obscurity is sometimes deserved, and I think this piece qualifies for it fairly well: it affords much brilliant playing, some inspired lyricism and arresting articulations, but it also features an enormous excess of climaxes and little sense of formal direction. The net effect is 44 minutes of watered down César Franck. The playing, however, was brilliant. Violinist Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio gave the work a very thorough and highly committed reading. Sykes again displayed remarkable fluency in the pianistically overloaded score. The quartet (Beia, Kelso, Ravnan and Karp) had smaller but no less demanding parts, which they offered with great care.

The remaining program in the series will be given Monday and Tuesday evening at 7:30, July 29 and 30, at the Isthmus Theater. It includes trios by Martinu, George Crumb, and Dvorak.

Isthmus, July, 1996
Copyright 1996 Jess Anderson

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