French Musician a Disaster in FAQ Concert

Fine Arts Quartet’s final summer concert would have been wonderful, if not for guest clarinetist Michel Lethiec.

By - Jun 30th, 2015 04:37 pm
Michel Lethiec

Michel Lethiec

French clarinetist Michel Lethiec is artistic director of the Festival Pablo Casals and has played with many orchestras internationally, from the Israel Chamber Orchestra to the St. Petersburg Philharmonic to the English Chamber Orchestra. He has premiered works by such composers as Krzysztof Penderecki and John Corigliano. So his inclusion as guest clarinetist in the final Summer Evenings of Music concert by the Fine Arts Quartet on Sunday seemed to auger for good results. Alas, that was anything but the case.

The Fine Arts Quartet performed what has the potential to be an often done addition to the clarinet repertoire: David Del Tredici’s Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet “Magyar Madness” (2006). Del Tredici’s clever stop-and-go phrases in the opening movement Passionate Knights: Allegro appassionato were intriguing. Ardent string writing in the movement marked Contentment (Interlude): Allegretto was exceptionally beautiful and masterfully played by violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez, and cellist Robert Cohen. Upon first listening to Del Tredici’s work it was easy to be enchanted by rhythmic expansion and contraction of thematic segments and impressed by broad romantic ideas.  I want to hear this piece again and get to know its ins and outs. The final movement, Magyar Madness (Grand Rondo “A La Hongroise”) is quite expansive and perhaps could still benefit some judicious editing lest listeners wander too far off before returning for the work’s exciting conclusion.

The first half of the program was devoted to the delightful Introduction, Theme and Variation (from “La Donna del Lago”) by Gioachino Rossini and the Clarinet Quintet in A major, K.581, by W. A. Mozart. The Fine Arts gentlemen lent buoyant spark to the Rossini and the Mozart was marked by particularly elegant interplay between Evans and Hernandez.

Lethiec, however, was a disappointment throughout the program. Non-metronomic, student level technique, an often shrill, honking sound, and silly dynamic contrasts—where huge swaths of notes simply disappeared in the pianissimo passages and fortes were harsh and conspicuously out of tune—painfully marred delightful repertoire. It would be great to hear the Del Tredici again in the hands of the FAQ and a much more refined clarinetist. In fact the entire program really deserved better. It was a testament to the FAQ’s powers of concentration and artistry that they were not driven to distraction by Lethiec.

5 thoughts on “Review: French Musician a Disaster in FAQ Concert”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am in total agreement with Bill Barnewitz’s review of the final Fine Arts Quartet concert. The Fine Arts Quartet`is too fine a group to perform with a clarinetist like Michel Lethiec, a player whose style and musicianship is not on the high level of this fine ensemble.

  2. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    It’s so seldom that one reads a bad review of a concert in Milwaukee (aside from a few dislikes of particulars) that I wish I had been at this concert to have heard the dissonance!

  3. Michael Barndt says:

    Bill –
    I won’t dispute your credentials to assess clarinet performance. You sat behind Todd Levy for many years. I am also impressed by the smooth, consistent sound Levy can produce across the register. I especially expect Levy would have performed the Rossini differently.

    But there were unusual circumstances in this setting. The acoustics of the Helen Bader Hall at the Zelazo Center tends to swallow low notes and turn high notes shrill on brass and wind instruments. Lethiec pulled back to balance his playing with the strings in the Mozart Quintet. This had an effect on how we heard – or didn’t hear – pianissimo sections on the clarinet. But I appreciated hearing the blended sound from my seat near the front of the hall.

    And more specifically, composer David Del Tredici shared with a pre-talk audience that he had asked clarinetist Michel Lethiec to play his work – Magyar Madness – in a “Klezmer” style. Still experimenting with ways to approach this contemporary piece, Lethiec may have over-done it.

  4. GT says:

    Tell us how you really feel.

  5. As the composer of Magyar Madness I was I stunned to read the inaccuracies of Mr. Barnewitz’s review. Not only is Michel Lethiec a brilliant player – and I attended all of the rehearsals for the piece – but the depth of his musically and his extremely imaginative playing was the major contributing factor to the pieces’ success.
    But what do I know I just wrote the piece!
    -David Del Tredici

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