Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., July 13, 2001
Jubilee Jewels: A Gentle Caper Through The DarkFirst Unitarian Universalist Church
Proving that chamber music is much more than the classical two-violin/viola/cello quartet paying serious homage to Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven, the Austin Chamber Music Center has scheduled an eclectic mix of programs for this summer's Chamber Music Festival. In addition to the fun-filled evening of PDQ Bach, the alternative chamber sounds of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, and the interactive and unpredictable Elastic Band, the ACMC has plenty of modern chamber pieces receiving a good airing by some of Austin's finest chamber musicians.
Jubilee Jewels was a comparative concert of sorts, with European composers' works from the 1920s and 1940s. A certain dark, fantastical quality ran throughout an evening that featured Megan Meisenbach on flute and Mary Golden on harp for three of the four selections. But for openers, Leos Janácek's Concertino, composed in 1925, provided the comfort of the familiar with piano accompanied by stringed instruments and highlighted by bassoon, clarinet, and French horn. Pianist Elden Little shared a playful first movement, "Moderato," with Stig Jensen on French horn; then it was Mary Schani's turn to play a duet, the "Piu Mosso," with Little. The end of this second movement brought the string section to life for a single stroke! The latter half of the four-movement piece saw mischievous interaction among all the instruments for what might have been a darting, peasant dance that skirted along darker themes, but always returned to more pleasing, head-bobbing rhythms.
Next up was Belgian Joseph Jongen's Deux Pièces en Trio, Opus 80 for Flute, Cello, and Harp, also composed in 1925. Golden's harp sounded a tranquil rain for what was a lovely "Assez Lent" movement. Full of sometimes wistful, sometimes dramatic moments, this Jongen piece was punctuated with sharp musical bursts, much like the Concertino.
Swapping out Margaret Coltman-Smith's cello for Kristin Wolfe Jensen's bassoon provided an alternative means for creating a pensive, mystical atmosphere for Andre Jolivet's Christmas pastorale, his Trio for Flute, Bassoon, Harp, penned in 1943. Amid the seasonal sweetness was, again, a melancholic, yet pretty, undertone for highly evocative movements that gave musical descriptions to the star ("L'etoile"), the three wise men ("Les Mages"), the Virgin and Child ("La Vierge et L'enfant"), and the gentle capering of the shepherds ("Entrée et Danse des Bergers").
After a long intermission, German composer Harald Genzmer's Trio for Flute, Viola, and Harp offered the audience another slightly unconventional view of how to play chamber music: Flutist Meisenbach and violist Bruce Williams opted to stand for the mostly upbeat Trio, which saw some serious toe tapping onstage. Not quite as rambunctious as gypsy music, still, the playful interchanges among the three musicians created a liveliness that transcended the darker "Notturno" section, with its bass notes plucked on Golden's harp. For the Thema mit Variationnen uber ein altes Volkslied, the traditional German folk song "A Little Forest Bird" served as the thread for multiple variations as chipper and engaging as the song bird itself.
Audiences unsure of the accessibility of chamber music that hails from the 20th century should rest assured that it is as enjoyable as that of any of the past masters, and in the capable hands of ACMC's talented personnel, replete with emotion, depth, and clarity.