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BDDS: Mozart, Brahms, Hindemith, Czerny

Mozart: Trio in E-flat major, K. 498
Brahms: Sonata in F major, Op. 99
Hindemith: Sonata (1936)
Czerny: Fantasia Concertante, Op. 256

Stephanie Jutt, flute
Parry Karp, cello
Jeffrey Sykes, piano


The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society's ninth season, this year dubbed "The Summer of Love," got underway last weekend with the first of three chamber-music concerts, "3-Some," featuring music by Mozart, Brahms, Hindemith and Czerny, with some 60's tunes thrown in for BDDS's usual madcap intermission feature of hi-jinks and door prizes. The BDDS custom of decorating the stage with an original installation by artist David Wells continued this year with hangings of flower-print fabric and paisley-design objets. A good-sized audience filled the first floor of Musc Hall, with a small overflow in the balcony. BDDS audiences are invariably enthusiastic about the events, and in this case there were solid musical rewards in return.

A programming problem for flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, the artistic co-directors of BDDS, is the relative scarcity of chamber works from the Classical period featuring the flute. This can lead to arrangements of works composed for other instruments, a tactic that doesn't always fully succeed, even when the playing itself is on a high level. Mozart's Trio in E-flat major, K. 498 is a sublime piece conceived for clarinet, viola and piano. Rescored here for flute, cello (played by Parry Karp) and piano, the work requires recalibration of one's sense of balance among the sonorities involved. Probably motivated by this issue, Jutt replaced the metal mouthpiece joint of her flute with an older ebony one, which affords a less shrill tone. But it was not enough, really, to stand in for the heavenly blending of alto sounds the original score permits. All three musicians were wonderfully lyrical, especially Sykes, whose playing was marked by extraordinary elegance.

Both Karp and Sykes were in especially good form for the Sonata in F major, Op. 99 by Brahms. Not what one would call a breeze for either player, this work is a whirlwind of notes, mainly a shifting series of trills, dominated by jittery, shimmering passion amid remarkable harmonic developments. The first, third and fourth movements were impressive enough, but it was in the second, adagio affettuoso, that Karp and Sykes achieved that all too-rare perfection of ensemble and spirit that just carries one away and earned them shouts of "Bravo!" at the end of the piece. I have to say, though, that I keep wishing for a bigger sound from Sykes, a truer fortissimo power, when it's called for. It did happen once, but there were other places in this massive work where it might have added to the dynamic and emotional scale of the sonata.

After intermission, Jutt, Karp and Sykes trooped onto the stage in outlandish hippy-days costumes, the men in huge Afro wigs, and played a medley of 60's pop music composed by the normally shy and retiring BDDS page-turner, Christopher Ryan, who also crooned a few tunes. The customary door prizes -- tie-dye t-shirts this time, plus CDs, books, etc., were handed out. To give the musicians time to change back into normal concert clothing, David Wells gave a short exposition on the exotic history of paisley and how a complex weaving design originating in 13th-century Kashmir came in the 19th to have the Scottish name we now use: it boils down to crass commercialism.

Paul Hindemith is a wonderful composer not much in fashion these days, which is really too bad. His 1936 Sonata for flute and piano is an excellent piece, accessible and quite representative of his formal and harmonic ideas. His quick movements are marked by strong, square rhythms, and his slow movements -- in this piece, especially -- are lyrically passionate. Jutt and Sykes gave it a fine performance.

Carl Czerny's Fantasia Concertante, Op. 256, one of the few pieces originally for flute, cello and piano, completed the program. Important mainly as a pupil of Beethoven and the teacher of Liszt, Czerny's name is dreaded by piano students who must slave through his countless deadly-dull etudes. This piece is by turns technically brilliant and sentimentally schmalzty, evidently inspired by some forgotten opera tune quite endlessly varied and elaborated. Surely it was offered mainly for the fun of it, because in musical terms there isn't a lot to it.

The Summer of Love continues with "4-Play" July 29 and "7 Easy Artists" August 5. The Madison performances are at 7:30 Saturdays in Music Hall on the UW campus.

Isthmus, July, 2000
Copyright 2000 Jess Anderson

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