Close acoustic makes for jarring results at Palm Beach Chamber Fest

By Alan Becker

The Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival has reached the penultimate concert of its summer season. Friday’s program, at the Helen K. Persson Hall at Palm Beach Atlantic University, continued the presentation of works varied in instrumentation and infrequently heard together.

 In an arrangement by Carlos Salzedo for flute, cello and harp, Ravel’s well-known piano Sonatine takes on a new palette of colors, but, oddly, has a sameness of texture absent from the original. Ravel knew what he was doing when he left the piece in its original state, unlike his orchestrations of the Pavane and Le Tombeau de Couperin.

 Salzedo’s arrangement, while fairly straightforward, does make some pleasing sounds, and did provide that noted harp virtuoso with additional repertory with which to regale his followers. What it does not do is add any special dimension to a piece already considered perfect as it is.

The performance, while technically well played, seemed affected and overindulgent. Pauses were extended and slow tempos stretched to their limits, resulting in momentum being lost. Karen Dixon’s mellifluous flute was not helped by the harsh, in-your-face acoustic of the Persson Hall; if one winced at some of the piercing high notes, it was not entirely her fault. Susan Moyer’s cello was, however, enhanced by the hall, as was Kay Kemper’s stunning harp virtuosity.

 Stravinsky’s neo-classic Octet is usually a joy to listen to. The four brass instruments so dominated this sound when pitted against the poor woodwinds, it became a battle to keep from squirming due to the threshold of pain being breached. Once again, it was the acoustics and not the players. The roguish, circus-like music did come across quite well, and the stunning Fugato was effectively tossed from instrument to instrument. Some movement endings seemed tentative, betraying the need for additional preparation time.

 The Brahms Clarinet Quintet, if hardly underperformed, is always welcome, especially in so fine a performance as greeted the audience this night. Written at the end of Brahms’s career, the autumnal sounds were balm to the ears. Although sounding unusually close, the acoustical problems seemed to take a vacation for this ensemble.

 Michael Forte’s limpid clarinet playing was perfect in its tonal beauty and refusal to overblow. The quartet players gave the impression that they had lived with this music and could relish in its magnificence without being self-conscious. The natural flow was never more evident than in the theme and variations finale, which was beautifully gauged, the return of the first movement opening coming as a natural catharsis.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday at the Eissey Campus Theatre of Palm Beach Community College in Palm Beach Gardens, and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Crest Theatre, Old School Square, Delray Beach. Call 800-330-6874 or go to

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Sat Jul 25, 2009
at 3:07 pm
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