Beethoven rarities spark Chamber Fest opener

By Alan Becker

The Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival is the perfect answer for listeners feeling concert deprivation during the summer doldrums. Each of the four weekend programs is repeated at three venues, and the 17th festival opener was held Friday night at Palm Beach Atlantic University at the intimate Helen K. Persson Hall in West Palm Beach.

Ordinarily, an all Beethoven program might appear to be pandering to conventional tastes. This one, however, featured four works for different combinations of instruments with two rarities for winds framed by two chamber standards.

While the Octet in E flat bears the late opus number 103, it’s really an early work, composed when Beethoven was 22, but not published until after his death. The Octet calls for two each of oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons, and is in four delightful movements. For all of its charms, and the brilliant playing of the musicians, the piece is a lightweight among the composer’s output.

The sound of three horns dominates the texture of the Quintet in the same key, joined by an oboe and a bassoon. Much of this piece survives only in fragments, although the opening allegro brings us a little closer to the Beethoven we know. Almost 100 years later an Austrian composer named Leopold Zellner prepared a performing version, but that too is now missing sections. What we are left with is a wonderful, lyrical, and rustic piece, with an expressive slow movement and a sprightly, if truncated, Menuetto. It may not accurately represent the composer’s final word, but the winning combination of instruments, and spirited music provided sheer joy. The horns performed with facility and were free of noticeable bloopers.

String Quartet No.11 in F minor is known by Beethoven’s own nickname “Serioso.” Serious it is, but not any more than the host of his other quartets that precede this one. The performance sounded a little raw at first, but soon settled in to make the most of the first movement’s unison proclamations and drama. The violence and oppressiveness of the minor tonality was convincingly handled, as was coping with the hall’s unforgiving acoustics, which can’t have been an easy task.

Beethoven’s well-known Archduke Piano Trio in B-flat is a genuine late composition. Dedicated to the composer’s friend and student, Archduke Rudolph of Austria, the trio is a masterpiece of sustained lyricism and inspiration. It was also performed with attention to drama and flow, with each of the young players contributing something new and fresh to this warhorse. If all was not perfection, the performance never sounded dutiful or boring, in a way that has pervaded recent readings by some better known groups.

The performance will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday at Palm Beach Community College’s Eissey Campus Theatre, 3160 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens; and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Crest Theatre, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Tickets are $21. Go to www.pbcmf.org

or call 800-330-6874.

Posted in concert review, Performances


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Sat Jul 12, 2008
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