A festive musical repast

By Alan Becker

The second program of the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival continues its juxtaposition of rarely heard music with more standard items. Once again, the Helen K. Persson Hall at Palm Beach Atlantic University was filled to near-capacity Friday evening. Designed primarily for solo recitals and chamber music, the hall acts as a small speaker baffle, with the listener cozily ensconced inside. Acoustical panels over the stage project the sound well forward, perhaps too much so at times.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 was heard in a version for flute and string quartet, arranged by the composer’s contemporary and supporter Johann Peter Salomon. This last, and possibly greatest, of Haydn’s symphonies suffers significantly in this transcription for small forces. While there was volume aplenty in the hall, the textures seemed thin, and the color, power, and depth an orchestra provides were not to be heard. The performers took to their task with enthusiasm and cannot be blamed for the sometimes twee results.

At more than 40 minutes, Anton Reicha’s Octet for winds and strings sparkled with the joy of creation. Reicha, a contemporary and friend of Beethoven, was born in Prague in 1770, settled in Bonn, and eventually became a naturalized French citizen and mentor to Hector Berlioz, Cesar Franck, and others. His own music adheres mostly to the doctrines of Viennese classicism.

Reicha is best known for his wind quintets, and the melodic fecundity and folk-like themes he used with great skill give this music a lift and buoyancy that are hard to resist. Themes are tossed from one instrument to another, virtuosity is required for each player, and the rich palette of instrumental colors is fully exploited with nary a touch of Beethoven’s influence to be found. The entire ensemble covered themselves with glory in this imaginative and creative music.

After intermission the music took a turn toward the dinner table. The Tafelmusik (Table Music) in D by Telemann is one of several such works by the composer. This piece is scored for trumpet, oboe, strings and harpsichord, and makes for high-class background music to accompany a repast at a wealthy household. Brian Stanley’s bright, clear toned and accurately embellished trumpet was most impressive, although all the players superbly conveyed the spirit of the music.

Paul Schoenfield’s Cafe Music for violin, cello and piano is a fun, clever piece, with nary a moment of the klezmer influence for which this composer is known. It was inspired by musicians Schoenfield heard at a restaurant in Minneapolis, and is a curiously effective amalgam of Gershwin, jazz, swing and pops, leavened with a tad of Claude Bolling. The two rhythmic outer movements form a tasty sandwich surrounding the bluesy Andante and it was a delicious entertainment. Schoenfield states that he attempted to write “high-class dinner music that could at the same time find its way into the concert hall.” All three players devoured this music with the passion of a child that has just discovered ice cream.

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 http://www.pbcmf.org/ or call 800-330-6874.

Alan Becker has reviewed concerts for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald. He has also written feature articles and CD reviews for the American Record Guide, and holds degrees from the Manhattan School of Music and Syracuse University, with additional graduate studies at the University of Miami.

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Sat Jul 19, 2008
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