A Night in Vienna
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., May 28, 2004
A Night in Vienna
Helm Fine Arts Center, St. Stephen's School, May 22
Transfigured Night (Verklärte Nacht) is the title of Arnold Schoenberg's first major work, initially performed around the turn of the 20th century and later transcribed for string orchestra. It is an often haunting, intricate piece, based on a poem that tells the story of a woman and her lover walking on a cold, moonlit night. She confesses to him her personal tragedy: Wanting desperately to be a mother, she allowed herself to be made pregnant by a stranger before she met this fellow, her true love. But rather than leave her, the man pledges his love to her and to the unborn child. What began as a trudge through the cold ends up a "walk through the lofty, bright night." Schoenberg's music pulls the tragic and the redemptive to its extremes in this excellent piece, performed with aplomb by the Budjanova Chamber Orchestra, an all-strings ensemble, with Austin Symphony Orchestra's Peter Bay guest conducting. The first part of the work was full of freneticism and worry the woman's spirit dark and unsure. Then, a change as the dialogue of the poem shifted to the man's voice: A more reassuring tone overtook the music, although ominous and uneasy themes still wove their way through this warmer second movement. Ultimately, the work resolved itself as the lovers did, into a serene and gentle embrace. In much the same way Bay led the symphony to that exquisite exhalation of the final note in Copland's Suite From Appalachian Spring back in March, the conductor led the chamber orchestra to a gentle sigh of a concluding note, a gesture of the deep friendship between people that hints at the greatness of love.
Friendship might have been the theme of the entire evening, dedicated as it was to the memory of Danielle Martin, the UT music professor who died recently and whose teaching and playing career touched many of the listeners and performers at Saturday's concert. The opening work, Beethoven's Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24, "Spring," was as rough and tumble an exercise in musical friendship as the Schoenberg was dramatic. Budjanova founder and main inspiration Jennifer Bourianoff teamed with Elden Little for a violin and piano duet through four movements of fine music. The give and take in the Allegro and the Adagio alternated the frisky with the slightly somber, the short Scherzo was bubbly, and the "Mozart-like" Rondo was sprightly and uplifting. Following this duet, Little returned to play a pair of Schubert songs with Stephanie Prewitt, whose mezzo-soprano was absolutely assured. The first, "Die Forelle"("The Trout"), was a musical frolic, the singer telling us about watching a trout play in a stream until the nearby fisherman grows impatient and catches the playful fish alas! In the second song, "Fruhlingsglaübe" ("Spring Faith"), the music turned dreamy and sad, the singer girding herself for the impending changes brought on by love's favorite season; while she may have lost something dear, everywhere around her the world is flowering. Change happens regardless of how one may cling to the past. Prewitt always lovely to hear when she joins any of a host of musical ensembles in town lent both songs something deep, almost philosophical, her execution heightening the jolly pathos of the former and coloring the moodiness of the latter with a velvety richness.
Closing the concert's first half was Mozart's Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano in E-flat Major, K.498, "Kegelstatt." "Kegelstatt" means "skittle alley," where friends play the game of skittles in the street. The composer autographed a copy of this trio with the line, "while playing skittles," and ever since, the work bears that game's name. Mozart may not have composed the piece in mid-skittle, but the music did smack of friends sharing some sort of game. The three-movement work is all about taking turns each instrument shares equal time with the others, starting with the Andante's rolling and lolling rhythms, moving through the Menuetto's mostly bright-and-breezy sensibility, through the final Rondeaux and its own smiling sounds. The Budjanovas offered a musical reminder of the power, depth, and playfulness of true friendship, and professor Martin would have been pleased indeed.