by Robert Rollin
The 2015/2016 Chagrin Concert Series lists as its mission statement “bringing fine classical music concerts to the greater Chagrin Falls community.” Last Sunday afternoon’s trio recital fulfilled this goal and more. It brought to the table an entire concert of exceptionally deserving but rarely heard 20th-century works, presented with amazing flair and verve.
The excellent violinist Hristo Popov, artistic director of the series, shared the stage with clarinetist Howard Klug and pianist Eric Charnofsky. “Klug” in German means “clever, cunning, shrewd, or clear-sighted,” and the clarinetist lived up to his name in his marvelous playing. He was technically outstanding and articulate in his interpretations. Charnofsky played powerfully with sensitive expression, showing a wide range of dynamics and clear rhythmic delineation.
The high point was a sparkling, energetic performance of Béla Bartók’s Contrasts. A masterwork of 20th-century music, The first version of the piece was premiered in January 1939 at Carnegie Hall by Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti, clarinetist Benny Goodman, and pianist Endre Petri, under the title Rhapsody. Later, Bartók added a middle movement, changed the title to Contrasts, and played the premiere of the new piece in April 1940 at Carnegie Hall with Szigeti and Goodman.
The opening, Verbunkos (“Recruiting Dance”), scintillated with the strutting and posturing of a dance designed to enlist new soldiers. The melodic ornamentation reflected Bartók’s immersion in the Hungarian national style, and made for a brilliant performance. Klug’s prolonged cadenza was stunningly powerful.
The musicologist Halsey Stevens linked the exoticism of the second movement, Pihenő (“Relaxation”), the embodiment of Bartok’s “night music” style, to the Indonesian gamelan. The ensemble effortlessly tossed off the lustrously shimmering passages, replete with violin pizzicato, omnipresent trills, and murmuring mirror image motives.
The concluding Sebes (“Fast Dance”) uses an interesting scordatura, or retuning, to create two dissonant tritones encasing a more consonant perfect fifth, lending a special dissonant quality to the movement. Here Bartók uses clarinet in A, instead of Bb as in the first two movements, to provide a slightly darker color. The crisp opening piano chords remind one of the opening of Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre, and Charnofsky kept them appropriately dry. The slower middle section relieved the outer sections’ frenzy with evocative glissandos and honking grace notes. A pyrotechnical cadenza was expertly played by Popov.
The ensemble capitalized on the bubbling ebullience of Darius Mihaud’s Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano, tossing it off with verve. The Ouverture was replete with lively syncopations — perhaps recalling Milhaud’s experiences in Brazil — and dizzying ascending flourishes, both offset by a more lyrical middle section. The slower Divertissement opened with a playful, imitative duet for violin and clarinet. Each alternated in gentle call-and-response duets with the piano. Charnofsky then took the lead to recall the opening of the first movement, while Popov and Klug receded to a more accompanimental role. The performance had great charm.
Jeu (“Play”) resembles a lively folk dance with its cheerful, relentless rhythmic flow. The violin and clarinet alternate roles: the violin fiddles in the foreground against a clarinet line; then the clarinet melody is accompanied by folksy strumming on the violin.
Introduction et final begins somberly. An octave in the lowest register of the piano tolls like a bell, in contrast to the rollicking regularity of the music that follows. The rhythmic regularity seems to recede when Milhaud adds little polytonal twists to the harmony, and the music races to a lively conclusion. All three musicians were consistently excellent in this alluring and elegant piece.
Aram Khatchaturian’s Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano begins with an improvisational-sounding duet for clarinet and violin. The piano adds a complex motion that seems in rhythmic and metric contrast to the proceedings. Popov’s complex, cross-rhythmic violin solo was excellent. The richly colorful Allegro seems modeled on folk dances and features a lively piano solo. The Moderato finale is a set of variations on a folksong. The clarinet energetically takes up the opening solo, followed by the piano. Later, in a high register, the violin pairs itself with the low register of the clarinet to create an interesting musical doubling. Khachaturian’s rather serious and intense romanticism made a stark contrast to Milhaud’s blithely sophisticated mood.
Meyer Kupferman’s The Garden of my Father’s House for violin and clarinet was the only duet on the program. Kupferman was a highly prolific composer and a four-decade chair of the Music Department at Sarah Lawrence College. In spite of a good deal of dissonance, the work has an underlying tonal sense — clearly a personal recollection of the composer’s father, who sang Hebrew, Yiddish, and Romanian songs to young Meyer. Kupferman, himself a clarinetist and composer of many works for the instrument, dedicated the piece to his father. A highly gestural interchange between the two soloists, the work employs many trills, tremolos, glissandos, and high-register passages in both instruments. In the hands of these two gifted soloists, it was a tour de force.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com March 9, 2016.
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