Thursday, September 27, 2018

Raising the Wind at the SBCMS



REVIEW

Los Angeles Wind Octet, South Bay Chamber Music Society, Pacific Unitarian Church, Rancho Palos Verdes
DAVID J BROWN

Jacques Ibert.
Was there ever a composer who better than Jacques Ibert understood the virtue of leaving listeners wanting more? His Cinq pièces en trio, composed for oboe, clarinet and bassoon in 1935, are all over and done in less than 10 minutes, but overflow with variety and charm. After only one minute the opening chirpy march, shared equally between all three instruments, comes to a pensive close, giving way to a delicate weave of oboe-led Andantino melody to be succeeded in turn by a spry Allegro assai even briefer than the first pièce.

Ted Sugata.
A second slow movement follows, an Andante more spacious and light-filled than the Andantino though still diminutive by any normal expectations, and then the whole work – a quintessence of Gallic economy and delight – is rounded off by a playful finale Allegro quasi marziale, in the course of which the bassoon definitely gets his moment in the sun, melodically speaking. All this was immaculately delivered by Ted Sugata (oboe), Sérgio Coelho (clarinet), and Elliot Moreau (bassoon), who with their performance ushered in the first South Bay Chamber Music Society concert of incoming Artistic Director Robert Thies’s inaugural season.

Sérgio Coelho.
If I had to take just a handful of Mozart recordings to some remote location, I'm pretty sure that the Serenade No. 12 in C minor K388 for wind octet would be among them. It’s a profoundly rewarding masterpiece – really a four-movement symphony for wind band – and with none of the easy-going amiability normally associated with 18th century serenades for the Harmonie line-up (outlined in Dr. Boglárka Kiss’s excellent program note, sadly only available online).

Elliot Moreau.
As played by the entire Los Angeles Wind Octet (comprising, as well as those already noted, Jennifer Cullinan (oboe), Edgar David López (clarinet), Judith Farmer (bassoon), Amy Jo Rhine and Gregory Roosa (horns), with Steve Dress providing extra contrabass underpinning), just its opening four-note unison ascent had an almost shocking power.

Jennifer Cullinan.
With the important exposition repeat observed, the Octet’s playing kept a focused trenchancy throughout the lengthy openingAllegro, and moved on to a spacious account of the E-flat major Andante that maintained the sense of weight. Mozart continues not to relax in the ingenious Menuetto in Canone, nor in its equally canon-wrought Trio, where Ms. Cullinan’s and Mr. Sugata’s duetting oboes led off with raw-toned distinctiveness. Only at the end of the Allegro finale, after eight highly contrasted variations (all in C minor), does Mozart at last turn, with wonderful ambivalence, into the major-key concluding page. What a work, and how well its depth and power were brought out by the LA Wind Quintet!

Daniel Wood.
The interval followed, and then, to open the second half…? Think Symphonia Domestica, but in place of more than 100 players taking some 45 minutes to portray a single day in the life of a household (Strauss’s), imagine instead just two French horns encapsulating the key events not of 24 hours but of several years in a relationship. This was the scenario for Space Available by the British-born, West Coast-resident hornist and composer Daniel Wood (b. 1974). 

Gregory Roosa & Amy Jo Rhine.
The performance was memorable not only for being played by its dedicatees and subjects of the narrative, wife-and-husband Amy Jo Rhine and Gregory Roosa (two members of the horn quartet Quadre founded by Mr. Wood), but also for Ms. Rhine’s detailed and loving introduction. She led the audience step by step through the work, first illustrating the rather spiky, unpredictable theme that represented herself, followed by Mr. Roosa playing his own more lyrical one. 

A “dating waltz” followed, and then a warm and closely-harmonized passage illustrative of marriage and the wedding-day, but after increasingly frenetic joyousness a sudden dissonant blast on both instruments heralded family tragedy (left discreetly unspecified by Ms. Rhine in her narrative). Two final sections limned first a gradual “return to life”, with some recapitulatory elements including the “dating waltz”, and then a moving on within which, she noted, there is in a relationship always the titular “space available” for renewal, however tragic circumstances may have been. 

Edgar David López.
After such a comprehensive, and indeed moving, narrative, it was a bit of a surprise that the entire work lasted only around 12 minutes. I confess that it left me somewhat ambivalent, partly wanting to have had more development of its motifs but also admiring its concision, and also wondering how well it would stand up without the narrative scaffolding. But then, why should it have to?

So was the warmth in the applause more for the touching story of the commission and its subject, rather than for the music itself? Maybe, but there was no gainsaying the fervor, skill and commitment of the players in what must be a pretty difficult piece, bar a few passing insecurities that I imagine were down to the heat and humidity in the room.

Judith Farmer.
After one of the greatest masterpieces of the woodwind ensemble repertoire, and such a uniquely personal contemporary work, it was fitting that the final piece should embody some relaxation, and indeed Beethoven’s Octet in E-flat Major, Op.103, did just that, being a product of the composer’s early years and, though in the same “standard” four-movement layout, in truth much more serenade-like than Mozart’s mature masterpiece.

Steve Dress.
Nonetheless, even in 1792 Beethoven's was already an individual voice to be reckoned with. There’s the propulsive energy from the first, oboe-led measure, the piquant relish and mastery of the instruments’ individual tone-colors, together with witty and rather Haydnesque tonal feints. 

After the tender but slightly over-long Andante and a Menuetto that’s really a scherzo, all this comes to a head in the Presto finale where the playfulness really bursts out, mostly instigated by the first clarinet, and all capped by some crazy horn fan-faring in the coda. The Los Angeles Wind Octet clearly had a great time with this, as did the audience. 

This was a fine start to the 2018-19 season: check out the South Bay Chamber Music Society website for the highly varied goodies that Robert Thies has programmed for the remaining six concerts, or download the complete schedule in .pdf form here

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South Bay Chamber Music Society, Pacific Unitarian Church, Rancho Palos Verdes, 3pm, Sunday, September 23, 2018.
Photos: Los Angeles Wind Octet: Courtesy SBCMS; Jacques Ibert: Wikimedia Commons; Jennifer Cullinan: Twitter/Gernot Wolfgang; Ted Sugata: Courtesy Pacific Symphony; Sérgio Coelho: takelessons; Edgar David López: MundoFosbo; Judith Farmer: Pasadena Symphony; Daniel Wood: Courtesy Swirly Music; Amy Jo Rhine/Gregory Roosa: the author; Elliot Moreau: flickr.

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