Pianist Noda assembles an offbeat but superb trio for Friends of Chamber Music

By David Fleshler

Soprano Lei Xu performed music of Mozart, Schubert and Debussy Monday night in a concert presented by Friends of Chamber Music.

Chamber music concerts have a somewhat austere reputation when compared to the grandeur of orchestral performances or the glamour of the opera house.

But on Monday at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall, Friends of Chamber Music of Miami put on a evening of works that would be hard to match for sheer tonal beauty and musical variety.

Julian Kreeger, president of Friends of Chamber Music, asked the pianist Ken Noda to assemble a concert, giving him carte blanche to select performers and program. Noda chose the highly regarded young clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein, a series regular, and the virtually unknown young soprano Lei Xu.  A recent Juilliard graduate who is in the Lindemann Young Artists program at the Metropolitan Opera, she appeared in the Met’s season-closing production of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Xu opened with the aria Padre, germani, addio from Mozart’s Idomeneo, giving as operatic a performance as would seem possible on a bare stage, as she expressed the character’s conflicted emotions.

If her voice seemed at times too rich, without the nimbleness to negotiate the more rapid passages of Mozart’s aria, she seemed completely in her element in Debussy’s Ariettes Oubliées. In this set of six love songs, the warmth, fullness and sensuality of her voice, with its focused tone and dead-on intonation, evocatively brought out love’s passions and disappointments.

Alexander Fiterstein

Fiterstein’s clarinet playing was a highlight of the concert, as he spun out the melodies of Brahms’ two late sonatas for clarinet and piano. His tone was full and rounded from upper to lower register, and he handled rapid passages with an easy unwavering agility as he shaped every phrase. Particularly fine was his ardent playing of the melodies of the first movement of the Sonata No. 2, warm and lyric without letting the melodies lose shape or the musical narrative lose momentum.

Ken Noda

Noda’s playing was a model of committed musicianship, as he varied his style from work to work. In the Mozart he was crisp and articulated, in the Debussy, turbulent and sensual. His approach in the Brahms sonatas was more dramatic than Fiterstein’s, but this brought a hard edge to the performances that played up the contrast between the two instruments without making them seem incompatible.

The culmination came at the end, as all three musicians joined for Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock, a set of songs about a solitary shepherd’s thoughts of love and loneliness. The musical rapport between Fiterstein and Xu was evident, as they tossed phrases back and forth and Xu seemed to tone down her vibrato a bit to match her tone more closely to that of the clarinetist.


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Tue May 17, 2011
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