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Brooklyn Chamber Music Society, Dec 17, 2021

Stephanie, Amanda, and I heard a concert by the Brooklyn Chamber Music Society on December 17. 2021. Our friend Jeffrey Sykes was the pianist. Jeffrey and I have been friends for AGES, about half my life! He and Stephanie are co-founders and co-artistic directors of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, a radical chamber music festival in Wisconsin. I was their page turner for many seasons, they're amazing.


The program opened with the Mozart oboe quartet in F major, played by oboist Nathan Hughes, violinist Carmit Zori (who's also artistic director of the Brooklyn Chamber Music Society), violist Robert Rinehart, and cellist Bion Tsang. They played it with snap and grace. The violinist and violist had a wonderful rapport. I'm historically not a huge fan of Mozart - - Brecht used the term "culinary art" to describe something that's beautiful but doesn't really have any impact and that's how I feel about Mozart most of the time. But as I get older I'm learning to enjoy it. Not love it yet but I'm seeing the value of beautiful music that makes you smile.


Hughes did a stunning job on a fiendishly high oboe part. He did his best playing in the second movement, which has a still, noble line. He's one of the two principal oboe players at the Met and I feel like I could hear that sense of vocal line in his playing.


Next, Two Rhapsodies for Oboe, Viola, and Piano by Charles Martin Loeffler. This is a composer I'd never heard of and ya know, every once in a while, there's a reason for that. This piece was from 1901 and originally written for voice, clarinet, and piano. Hughes set the tone by reading the poems that were used in the original version. The first movement sounded like Ravel without any imagination. Lovely but not distinctive or meaningful. The players played it like it was better than it was, which is a good skill to have! There was one moment in the first movement where it felt like the music was about to go in a fascinating, unexpected direction, but it lasted one or two measures and immediately got back on track to lovely and meaningless.


The second movement had more harmonic invention - - it was like Debussy with 65% less imagination. Stephanie felt like the piece would be better if it was just the first movement and I agree. That would have been more than enough.


They finished the program with a piano quartet by Hungarian composer Ernő Dohnányi, written in 1893 when he was only 16 years old. Jeffrey introduced the piece and said that he hoped we could feel the "joy and exuberance" of playing an unknown piece by a composer they all know and love. It was an amazing piece, full of dark drama, lots of sweep and passion. You really could feel the joy and exuberance, Jeffrey in particular delivered the goods in this piece.


I didn't write a lot in my notes because I was so drawn into listening to the piece. Stephanie had a couple of amusing observations: she said it was like a play with 1,000 scenes. Or like the state motto of Minnesota, "Land of 10,000 Lakes." Each of those lakes are beautiful but it's a lot of damn lakes!


Here's a performance from 2015 by the Notos Quartett:



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