Friday, February 22, 2013


Cleveland Institute of Music
February 20
Cleveland State University
February 19
Plymouth Church
February 17

Duo plus one: Warner, Umble and Warner.

The past week has brought a surfeit of chamber music, a welcome respite from the leaden skies and gloomy days of February. There’s nothing like small halls filled with elegant, uplifting music to chase the winter blues.

In that regard, pianist Carolyn Gadiel Warner’s annual gathering of friends at the Cleveland Institute of Music on Wednesday couldn’t have been better-timed. And what a group of friends! A longtime member of the CIM faculty and Cleveland Orchestra, Warner was joined by a supporting cast that included fellow orchestra members John Clouser (bassoon), Mark Jackobs (viola), Jesse McCormick (French horn), Frank Rosenwein (oboe), Marisela Sager (flute) and Stephen Warner (violin). The latter is also her husband and partner in the Cleveland Duo; they play frequently with alto saxophonist James Umble, who joined them in Mixon Hall.

It’s an unusual program – none of it is in the mainstream repertoire,” Warner cautioned in her introduction. Which turned out to be a bonus. Instead of the usual Bach, Brahms and Beethoven fare, the audience was treated to late 19th/early 20th-century works by Darius Milhaud, Ernst von Dohnányi and Ludwig Thuille. Each had distinctive points of interest, and all benefited from fine playing.

Composed for a 1923 ballet, Milhaud’s La Création du Monde reflects the composer’s fascination with American jazz – actually, more like an obsession in this happy cacophony of Gershwin-like street sounds and catchy melodies. If it sounded anemic, that’s because La Création was originally written for a 29-piece ensemble which included five timpani. Still, it was well worth hearing in Warner’s arrangement for quartet, particularly the soulful sax work by Umble. So was von Dohnányi’s Quintet for Piano and Strings No. 2 (rather than the more familiar No. 1), a melodramatic work that swoops and swells and features lots of anxious quivering in the strings. The sound became ragged around the edges in the final movements, and no wonder – the piece is nearly 30 minutes long, and demands intense concentration throughout. Otherwise, the playing was sharp and thoughtful.

Thuille’s Sextet for Piano and Woodwind Quintet was gorgeous, a relatively straightforward late Romantic work that sounded surprisingly modern at times in its melodies and tonal combinations. The wind and horn ensemble was quite good, turning in a polished, spirited performance that featured sparkling solos by clarinetist Elinor Rufeizen. That fit perfectly with the snow falling outside the glass wall behind the performers, which added a touch of enchantment to the evening.

A supple stylist.
At Cleveland State’s Drinko Hall on Tuesday, faculty member and pianist Robert Cassidy put together a more familiar program that also featured high-caliber Cleveland Orchestra talent (and another husband-wife team) in cellist Tanya Ell and clarinetist Robert Woolfrey. Cassidy opened with a solo performance of Bach’s Italian Concerto (BWV 971), showing a fluid, supple style and a fine balance between technical precision and sensitive expression.

Ell joined him for Beethoven’s Sonata in G minor for Piano and Cello (Op. 5, No. 2) and displayed impressive command of her instrument, particularly in playing on the bridge to establish the opening low tones. Ell squeezes an amazing amount of expression out of the cello, and worked well with Cassidy, creating a delicate interplay with him in the final movement. Woolfrey’s turn with Cassidy was less satisfying, mostly because of the piece, Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Piano by Rossini. Woolfrey was up to the technical demands of the fast-paced, repeating clarinet phrases, but the work itself never develops much beyond a set of dexterity exercises.

The full trio established an authoritative sound immediately in the finale, Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat major (Op.11), better-known as the Gassenhauer Trio. Their deft handling of the many shifting tempos was seamless, and the intelligence and verve of their performance left this critic wishing there had been more trios on the bill. Still, the concert (part of the John A. Flower Faculty Concert Series) more than merited the live broadcast slot it was given on WCLV.

Have lute, will travel.
For pure escape, there is nothing better than Baroque, and Debra Nagy’s Les Délices ensemble offered a particularly refined retreat with a “Portrait of Love” program at Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights on Sunday afternoon. British lute and theorbo specialist Nigel North joined the group and established a warm, fluid sound with entrées and other short solo pieces in the first half, which focused on early music (Robert Ballard, Pierre Guédron). Both North and soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw had an opportunity to showcase their dexterity on an engaging duet, Gabrielle Bataille’s Ma bergere non legére.

Shaw was best when she had a chance to be expressive in later works, like Michel Lambert’s D’Un feu secret. But the group’s exquisite sound comes primarily from two players – Nagy on recorder and oboe, and Emily Walhout on viola da gamba – who were outstanding. Walhout transfixed the audience with a commanding solo, De Machy’s Prélude, eliciting enthusiastic and well-deserved applause. And Nagy took every piece up a notch when she came in, especially with ornamentation on selections like Joseph Chabanceau de la Barre’s J’avois juré.

Nagy said farewell to the packed house with a reminder that the group’s next Cleveland concerts (April 20 & 21) will feature “one of the world’s finest hurdy-gurdy players.” We can hardly wait.

For more on Les Délices:

For more on Robert Cassidy:

For more on Carolyn Gadiel Warner and the Cleveland Duo:

Robert Cassidy photo by Roger Mastroianni

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