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Seen and Heard International Concert Review

Quintets and Sextets: Music from Copland House: Derek Bermel, Clarinet, Michael Boriskin, Piano, Paul Lustig Dunkel, Flute, Nicholas Kitchen, Violin, Wilhelmina Smith, Cello, Guest artists: Timothy Fain, Violin, Danielle Farina, Viola, Miller Theatre, New York City, 18th February 2005 (BH)

Copland: Sextet (1933, 1937)
Sebastian Currier (b. 1959): Static (2003) (World premiere)
Prokofiev: Overture on Hebrew Melodies, Op. 34 (1919)
John Musto (b. 1954): Sextet (2000)

“Terror is not a word that normally comes to performers’ minds when they think of Copland’s music, but the Sextet…still strikes fear into otherwise intrepid musicians.” These program notes don’t lie. Indeed, with the exception of the more benign middle section, the Sextet is filled with plenty to alarm even seasoned musicians. The opening Allegro vivace charges off like a rocket, with angular lines and the rhythms constantly being jerked around as if offstage handlers were manipulating the players, and the final movement, “precise and rhythmic,” is a veritable minefield of hurtling syncopations. But the Copland House ensemble made it all look easy, and none of the composer’s diversions seemed to faze anyone in the least. The second Lento has a contemplative clarinet solo, with Derek Bermel at his best, along with his outstanding colleagues Nicholas Kitchen and Timothy Fain (violins), Danielle Farina on viola, Wilhelmina Smith on cello and Michael Boriskin in fearless form on piano. This Sextet is one of Copland’s most appealing works from a listener’s point of view, and I suspect many who are fatigued by overplayed warhorses like Appalachian Spring might investigate this and more of the composer’s smaller and lesser-known creations. (To make this research easier, Copland House has issued an excellent two-disc set on Arabesque, The Chamber Music of Aaron Copland, with this work and others.)

The news of the night was a world premiere by Sebastian Currier, whose intriguing Static sometimes reminded me of Kurtág, with perhaps some Messiaen thrown in, but Currier’s marvelous, cloud-like creation wouldn’t be mistaken for either. “Remote” contains a series of softly pulsing chords separated by full rests and evokes a timeless stasis, quickly dispelled by the playful “Ethereal” that follows. The third, titled “Bipolar”, begins slowly but soon exults in something like a surreal barn dance before subsiding into the initial haze once again. “Resonant” gives the violin and cello a duet before following with trills, whilst “Charged” has a piccolo leading a wild, shrieking vivace, here with the expert Paul Lustig Dunkel. The final “Floating” returns to the slow-moving chords, this time adorned with harmonics. I confess that to date my exposure to Mr. Currier’s work is limited, but I found this piece riveting, in no small part due to the patient, extraordinarily cohesive performance.

After the interval came a strongly conceived Overture on Hebrew Melodies by Prokofiev, turning the Copland House crew into something vaguely reminiscent of the best klezmer band you’ve ever heard, with enough wit for two or three concerts. The cool and soulful Mr. Bermel was again particularly winning, but the caliber of musicianship here could be a model for chamber music camaraderie. Of course, it comes out in the results, but watching the players interact with each other was a pleasure all in itself.

To close the evening was John Musto’s exuberant Sextet – not only well crafted but clearly a crowd-pleaser (no contradiction), and one could only sit back and enjoy the musicians’ digging in to this meaty score with relish. Following a scorchingly dramatic cadenza by Mr. Bermel, the last movement races faster and faster to a tension-filled ending that is almost guaranteed to have the audience cheering with its virtuosic demands, and here, it worked. And praise for the insightful programming, which paired two complementary works in the first half, and in the second showed the (no doubt completely coincidental) links between Prokofiev’s small gem, and Mr. Musto’s bit of opalescent fire written eighty years later.

Bruce Hodges



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)