Tom Strini

Musique, plasir at Chamber Music Milwaukee

By - Oct 29th, 2009 11:03 pm
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Maurice Ravel in 1912.

Maurice Ravel in 1912.

Every rule has a numerous exceptions, but there are rules.

German music in the late 19th century was argumentative, emotionally and philosophically ambitious, and long. French music at the same time was more concise, more modest and more about taking pleasure in sound.

Vive la France, I say, in the wake of Thursday’s Chamber Music Milwaukee program.

Trumpeter Kevin Hartman, he of the luxuriant tone and creamy legato, and pianist Jeffry Peterson opened with the luxuriant, dreamy melodies of Arthur Honegger’s Intrada. Such melodies frame a bustling bit of locomotion that serves as a middle section.

Phillipe Gaubert (1879-1941), a flutist by trade and an esteemed conductor in his day, was a new name to me. Pianist Jeannie Yu, flutist Caen Thomason-Redus and cellist Joseph Johnson brought out the champagne sparkle in the first of Gaubert’s Trois Aquarelles, the gentle nostalgia in the second and the easy, loping gait of the third.

Arthur Honneger

Arthur Honneger

Johnson and violinist Frank Almond took on the thorniest piece of the evening, Ravel’s Duo Sonata. The dissonances, rough effects and abrupt juxtapositions of musical fragments brought Bartok to mind. But the mood is playful; Ravel revels in his ingenuity at arranging his musical blocks in the most dizzying and unlikely ways. A prime concern is the relation of figure to ground. He shows you an accompaniment, usually an ostinato, he shows you a melody. Before you know what’s happened, they’ve switched roles, combined, flipped and tumbled like a couple of acrobats. It’s highly virtuosic fun, and the panache that Almond and Johnson brought to it was exactly right.

Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, a wind quintet homage to a French Baroque composer, opens with a whirr of fleet scales in triplets and sextuplets as dazzling as a swarm of butterflies. Ravel takes his cues here from Baroque forms; the toccata-like prelude leads to 20th-century takes on the fugue, the menuet and the rigaudon, all cheerful, vibrant fantasies.

Darius Milhaud

Darius Milhaud

Darius Milhaud’s Le Cheminee du Roi Rene, outlines a long day of picnicking of a medieval king and his retinue in seven little numbers for wind quintet. The party processes to the picnic grounds and sings a morning serenade. A juggler entertains them, they engage in some friendly jousting, gallop through a hunt, sing a song around the campfire and then a final hymn as the sun goes down. Each bit is specifically and wonderfully picturesque. Milhaud’s writing for winds is so expertly idiomatic that even the quicksilver passages seem to tumble from the instruments of their own accord.

Of course those notes did no such thing. Flutist Caen Thomason-Redus, oboist Margaret Butler, clarinetist Todd Levy, bassoonist Theodore Soluri and horn player Gregory Flint just made it sound that way. Their command of the notes and feel for the ebb and flow of the music made playing it sound like as much of a pleasure as listening to it.

The music department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee puts Chamber Music Milwaukee at the UWM Zelazo Center. You can download the schedule for CMM and all arts events at UWM right here.

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