Monday, June 23, 2014

Summing Up the 2014 Delaware Chamber Music Festival

Delaware Chamber Music Festival Quartet, L-R:
Clancy Newman, Burchard Tang, Hirono Oka, Barbara Govatos 
Alas, all things must end — as did the Delaware Chamber Music Festival today (Sunday, June 22, 2014).

The programming must be commended for variety and standards.  Barbara Govatos and friends have consistently chosen works from the past which often are seldom used — either because they are not known or because they are so wildly difficult (such as the Tchaikovsky Trio Opus 50 performed in the first concert) — or they choose women composers who never got a fair shake (e.g., Rebecca Clarke's piece in the second concert themed "The Expressive Viola").  And speaking of fair shake, when you hear such artists as Burchard Tang and Che-Hung Chen play the viola up close and personal, it shows the audience that the viola deserves a role as solo instrument.

The incredible ability of Marcantonio Barone and the joy with which he and Charles Abramovic tore through excerpts of the Brahms Hungarian Dances for piano, four hands; the energy and excitement of Benito Meza's clarinet giving new impetus to Louise Farrenc (a woman composer who DID get a fair shake, but was later relegated to the attic); the introduction of new works by Clancy Newman and Kenji Bunch.  All are enough to make this series an experiment in innovative programming for some of the best musicians in the region.  How lucky we are, too, that The Music School of Delaware is such an acoustically inviting venue, convenient to Wilmington and Philadelphia as well as points south.

The first concert in the Festival (Friday, June 13) featured a chestnut — Beethoven's Piano Trio in E-flat major, Opus 1, No. 1 — played with daring and flawless passion by Govatos, Clancy Newman and Marcantonio Barone.  The introduction of a piece so hard it is rarely performed — Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A minor, Opus 50 — was a distinctive treat.

The second concert (Sunday, June 15) let the viola shine with a stellar performance of Rebecca Clarke's Sonata for viola and piano.  It also included the Lament for two violas in c minor by Frank Bridge and the Brahms' String quintet in G major, Opus 111.  This concert let us hear more of Burchard Tang's fine viola playing as well as that of Che-Hung Chen.

The third concert (Friday, June 20) was entitled Fresh Ink! as it featured the US Premiere of Clancy Newman's Collision Course for piano, clarinet and cello (2013).  Guest clarinet player Benito Meza not only put his fresh energy to work on the new piece by Newman, but also breathed new life into the Trio for clarinet, cello and piano in E-flat major, Opus 44 by Louise Farrenc.  The performance of the 2002 Broken Music for cello and piano by Kenji Bunch was also a new experience, with Bartok fretboard slapping on the cello by Newman and damping of hammers by Marcantonio Barone.  But the boyish vigor with which Charles Abramovic and Barone gleefully played the excerpts of Brahms' 21 Hungarian Dances for piano, four hands, was the freshest 'ink' of the evening.

The final concert (Sunday, June 22) was all string quartets, performed by the Festival Quartet themselves.  They coordinate so well to communicate Franz Josef Haydn's jokes, Dvorak's passion and Schubert's complex and often operatic sounding works.  Each has a special gift that is hard to describe.  Hirono Oka, so shy and quiet in person, pushes her violin bow to create a round, secure, sometimes aggressive sound.  Burchard Tang had some very high and exciting lines, sometimes in duet with the violin and sometimes with the cello.  Clancy Newman had cello notes which soared high in the range with ease and his smooth sound belied his ability to rock out for Broken Music and his own Collision Course.  DCMF Music Director Barbara Govatos, who manages everything from reception cookies to recognizing her music students from decades past, puts all those thoughts down when she bows her head to decide on her tempo and expression before each movement of the grand Schubert quartet.

How sad that we have to wait one more year to hear more!


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