Young Beethoven shines brightest at Palm Beach Chamber Festival

By David Fleshler

In a well-performed evening of light, elegant works Friday, the musicians of the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival showcased two composers most people have never heard of and one composer everyone knows.

The concert at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach opened with the Octet, Op. 132 by Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger, a late 19th century organist and composer from Liechtenstein—an origin that probably added to his appeal to the festival’s obscurity-loving organizers.  A pleasant, entertaining work, it showcased the rich, elegantly phrased oboe work of Sherie Aguirre and the assured violin playing of Dina Kostic, who tossed off rapid runs with accuracy, lightness and no sign of effort.

The festival’s leaders have long made a point of discovering obscure works for unusual combinations of instruments, rather than engaging in the easier, more commercially viable practice of putting on lots of big popular pieces by Brahms, Mendelssohn and company. While this commendable approach turns up interesting works, it also throws into sharp relief why Beethoven occupies his position in the music world and Rheinberger, say, occupies his.

Beethoven’s Septet, Op. 20, composed at the age of 20, is inventive, well structured and bursting with musical ideas. The ensemble performed with exuberant virtuosity in a work that gave each performer a chance to shine or fall short, as the case may be. The violin part was a concerto-like exercise in bravura playing—including a cadenza—and violinist Mei Mei Luo met the challenge with a powerful performance that was full of fireworks but left intact the work’s surface of classical refinement.

Also performed was the Suite en rocaille by Florent Schmitt, a turn-of-the-20th-century French composer, for flute, harp and strings. Resembling Debussy, with a whiff of Ravel, the work was well played, with particularly good work by Karen Dixon, a founding member of the chamber music festival, who performed with a rounded tone and fleet approach to rapid passagework.

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 18, 2009
at 12:45 pm
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