Palm Beach Chamber Fest opens with bracing mix of rarities

By David Fleshler

A piece for three bassoons. A serenade by Bohuslav Martinu for strings and clarinets. A rarely heard work by the young Beethoven. It must be time for the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival.

 The festival opened its 18th season Friday evening in West Palm Beach with its usual mix of little-known pieces for odd combinations of instruments and the occasional standard work thrown in to keep everyone happy. Founded by a flutist, clarinetist and bassoonist–hence the heavy emphasis on off-the-beaten path works–the festival has placed a premium on recruiting top-flight local musicians for performances that ably bridge the gap until the fall music season.

 Friday’s performance at the Helen K. Persson Recital Hall of Palm Beach Atlantic University featured works that would have mercilessly exposed any technical shortcomings among the musicians, but there was not a single weak link. The performers played with a high degree of polish, with a level of precision and musical unity that indicated careful preparation.

 They opened with Beethoven’s early Serenade in D Major, Op. 25, a light, graceful work for flute, violin and viola. Although the six-movement work seemed to go on a bit, it was performed with vigor and polish. Violinist Mei Mei Luo’s fiery style contrasted well with flutist Karen Dixon’s sparkling lightness, with the violist Rene Reder providing a firm anchor in the lower registers.

 Three bassoons, it turns out, make a surprisingly effective combination. Before the performance of Eugene Bozza’s Divertissements for bassoon trio, Michael Ellert, one of the festival’s founders, explained that lower-register instruments sound well together because they produce a wide variety of overtones. Certainly the three instruments–played with warm tones and technical assurance–produced a harmonically rich texture as they performed Bozza’s entertaining, easily accessible work.

 Bohuslav Martinu’s Serenade for two clarinets, violin, viola and cello is a lively, dramatic and lyrical work, and received a refined, expressive performance. The combination of winds and strings was so rich and effective that you wonder why composers stick so often to the standard combinations of strings or strings and piano.

 The most familiar–really the only familiar–piece on the program was Dvorak’s Serenade in D Minor, Op. 44 for a 12-instrument combination of winds, horns and strings. They performed this piquant, dramatic and warmly romantic work with an impressive technical and musical unity, as the sweet tones of the oboes and other wind instruments contrasted with the more dramatic utterances of the horns.

 If you’re hoping for an evening of string quartets by Beethoven or Brahms, look elsewhere. But if you’re willing to consider the expressive possibilities of a bassoon trio, the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival would be a good choice.

 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

Posted in Performances

3 Responses to “Palm Beach Chamber Fest opens with bracing mix of rarities”

  1. Posted Jul 13, 2009 at 1:32 am by Beth Bloch

    fabulous performance….great choice of music….always a pleasure to attend their performances….

  2. Posted Jul 15, 2009 at 1:35 pm by Chuck

    This festival is one of the great pleasures of being in South Florida in July. Exquisite performances… can’t wait till this weekend’s next performance!

  3. Posted Jul 16, 2009 at 4:18 pm by Dan the Music Master

    I think a lot of composers underestimate the power of combining bassoons. Engish horns and bassoons are also lovely together.

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