Chamber Festival closing on several high notes

By Alan Becker

The Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival is concluding its four-week series on a high note, as demonstrated by the terrific concert Friday night at the Helen K. Persson Recital Hall.

Debussy’s Premiere Rhapsody for clarinet and piano was originally written as a competition piece for the Paris Conservatoire, and subsequently orchestrated by the composer. Although the idiomatic writing was sensitively played by pianist Lisa Leonard, knowledge of the rich tapestry of orchestral colors tends to eclipse the composer’s first thoughts. It definitely held no terrors for clarinetist Michael Forte. His liquid tone melted beautifully into all the subtle crevices of the music in a performance that was one of the festival’s highlights.

Schubert’s Introduction and Variations on the song “Trockne Blumen” for flute and piano is based on one of the theme’s from his Die schone Mullerin cycle. Despite the maudlin title that translates as “faded flowers,” it is an upbeat set of extended variations that rarely strays from the melody. There is a substantial degree of virtuosity required of both players and the music received it in this performance. Once beyond the slow introduction, Karen Dixon’s flute playing moved from a slow, pulsating vibrato to find its way through one of Schubert’s most joyful late creations. Lisa Leonard continues to impress, as she has done throughout this series, by capturing just the right style, touch, and sound for everything she plays.

Jean-Paul Holstein’s Photogenies for bassoon and harp is a Frenchman’s tribute to the English photographer David Hamilton. Thankfully its five movements, sporting such titles as Abandon, Evasion, Invasion, are mercifully short. While the music might be described as abstract and conservative-contemporary, it’s one of those works that is probably more fun to perform than to listen to. The two instruments rarely play together since the composer treats them as a dialogue rather than a duo. Michael Ellert made the most of its bassoon intricacies, and Kay Kemper’s harp made some pleasant sounds. Holstein’s obscurity will not be reversed by this piece.

The String Quintet No. 2 by Brahms bears a late opus number, and was originally planned to be the composer’s swan song. Fortunately this was not to be so, and he went on to produce some of his greatest autumnal works. The music, particularly in the first two movements, is of great melodic beauty.

The ensemble’s playing was firmly thrust forward from the start, emphasizing the rich scoring in ravishing sonorities with the cello lending its deep tones without reticence. The slow movement gives the lion’s share of the work to the violas, the composer’s favorite instrument, and was played with just the burnished quality the music calls for. The Allegretto third movement serves as a somewhat pensive intermezzo before the Hungarian flavored finale. The quintet is among the least often heard of Brahms’s chamber music, and hearing it so well performed gave cause to anticipate the 18th installment of the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival.

The program 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 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.

Posted in concert review, Performances

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Sat Aug 2, 2008
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