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BDDS: Becker, Gieseking, Sykes, Crumb, Dvorak

Bob Becker: Figure Ground
Walter Gieseking: Variations on a Theme of Edvard Grieg
Wiley Sykes: Chiasmata
George Crumb: An Idyll for the Misbegotten
Dvorak: Slavonic Dances, Op. 46

Stephanie Jutt, flute
Jeffrey Sykes, piano
Stefanie Jacob, piano
Dane Richeson, percussion
Jamie Ryan, percussion
Wiley Sykes, percussion


Opening its sixth two-concert summer miniseries at the Civic Center's Starlight Room Friday evening, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society again combined high seriousness with frivolities in an effort of make chamber-music concerts fun. Unplanned for "fun" in the middle of the program included a trip for the audience of about 200 to the building's lower level to wait out a tornado warning.

BDDS regulars Stephanie Jutt (flute) and Jeffrey Sykes (piano) were joined by pianist Stefanie Jacob and percussionists Dane Richeson, Jamie Ryan, and Wiley Sykes. All of the playing was on a very high level, but the fare offered was somewhat uneven as to musical merit, I thought.

For one thing, the half-hour storm delay caused one of the more serious works to be skipped, Joan Tower's Snow Dreams for flute and percussion. The opening piece, Bob Becker's Figure Ground for two percussionists (Richeson and Sykes) had three short movements, featuring in turn claves, bells and marimbas and dizzying sequences of extremely quick but not quite identical rhythmic patterns. I was left with the perhaps intended impression, "There's order here; I wonder what it is."

Variations on a Theme of Edvard Grieg by Walter Gieseking, better known (and better) as a great pianist than as a composer, afforded Jutt and Jacob ample oppportunites for brilliant display, but the 20-minute work's melange of post-Brahmsian, post-Impressionist styles so overwhelmed the simple beauty of the theme that the variations seemed vague and prolix.

Chiasmata, by Wiley Sykes, is scored for three percussionists and piano ostinato. The title refers to intersections or crossovers, which seemed fitting for a work featuring Indian tabla in an otherwise western-style musical ground of vibraphone, marimba, and piano. Demonstrating that Indian musical patterns can be spoken (many people were probably not aware that human speech can be as fast as the nimblest drummer's fingers), the group then made music in the nimblest possible fashion. Sykes' tabla playing was particularly impressive.

The most satisfying work on the program was George Crumb's An Idyll for the Misbegotten, for amplified flute and drums. The work conveys elemental natural forces, embodying ancient-sounding melodies and primordially violent rhythmic outbursts. One of the central ideas is that humanity has lost its roots in nature. It's a hauntingly beautiful piece and the playing was great.

Pianists Sykes and Jacob concluded the program with Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 for piano four-hands. There was much lyrical and lovely playing, plus very flashy fingerwork (the piece is a bear to play), but in the end the entertainment aspect of the long work's eight movements leaves one hoping it will end soon.

The BDDS always has a mystery guest at intermission. It was Madison mayor Sue Baumann, masked as Frank Lloyd Wright. The second program in the series, Friday evening, Aug. 1st at 7:30 pm, is all French and entirely serious: the Faure Flute Sonata, the Debussy Violin Sonata, and the Ravel Piano Trio.

Isthmus, July, 19957
Copyright 1997 Jess Anderson

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