The first presentation of Amici’s 22nd concert season was billed as “L’essenza di Amici”—a program designed to reflect the trio’s core values and repertoire philosophy. “It’s all the music we love to play,” explained cellist David Hetherington to the appreciative crowd assembled without costumes or masques just a few hours after Halloween.
The five selections were a smorgasbord of styles and textures, filled with more colours than Muskoka’s fall leaves and even included a tree of its own.
Happily, the collective ensemble skills and individual talents of the performers (as usual, pianist Serouj Kradjian and clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas joined Hetherington) allowed the music to be the sole focus, instantly negating the few-and-far-between pitch vagaries, speech impairments or missteps.
Curiously, given the relatively intimate confines of the Glenn Gould Studio, the mighty Steinway’s lid was at full mast throughout, causing anything above a forte to swamp the singe reed and four strings—dropping down to short peg can only improve the balance.
Daniel Lee’s Break Dance!—the newest work and encouraging result of Amici’s education program—was a fascinating collage of episodes which, after a rough-and-ready liftoff, engaged the ear with Coplandesque theater music and edgy, stop-and-go interventions, equally exploiting the range and rhythmic smarts of the players. Perhaps a touch less unison writing might be considered in this emerging composer’s next effort. Given the success of this young opus, more should soon follow.
Film composer Nino Rota’s (cross-reference below) Clarinet Trio was a welcome newcomer to Amici’s repertoire. The lyrically conversational opening movement instantly established his credentials as a “serious” composer. The “Andante” was truly memorable, notably the seamless melodic handoffs between Valdepeñas and Hetherington. Trustees of Jacques Ibert’s estate might wish to have the “Allegrissimo” vetted against the saucy “Finale” of Divertissement but ought to be content to accept the compliment and worry more about royalty income from the under-appreciated Frenchman’s catalogue (in the words of writer Henri Colpi: “Jacques Ibert’s reputation as a lightweight composer of witty frivolities—a kind of ex officio member of ‘Les Six’—does him a lot less than justice.”). Those with “le goût” for his period won’t want to miss a note of Amici’s next concert: “Les Six versus Saint-Saëns.”
Hearing/seeing Chan Ka Nin’s programmatic, semi-staged environmental essay, “I think that I shall never see …,” should inspire savvy producers to engage his considerable skills for their next film. Chan has the rare ability of letting the music lead the storyline rather than reacting to it. While Hetherington affably shared the detail of the words-behind-the-art, it might be instructive to repeat the piece before an “uniformed” audience—the composer’s points would be understood just as effectively, methinks. That aside, this performance was the highlight of the afternoon: the commitment from the musicians was palpable, drawing everyone into Chan’s telling soundscape. The eerie bowed-saw conclusion was an incredibly plaintive cry from our decaying planet. What might be said if it could speak for itself?
After the interval, a patchwork of Schumann’s emotionally laden Fantasiestücke frustrated the ear even as it served as the compositional novelty (not dissimilar to an arrangement of Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata for flute and string trio, cross-reference below). Originally intended for either clarinet or cello and piano (the writer’s Buffet-owning days must reveal his bias), Hetherington took the first frame, Valdepeñas the second before Kradjian arranged the last for all. The echoes of movements past and truncating long, formerly heavenly lines failed to coalesce in a way that could unlock the incredibly sublime thoughts that, in capable, singular hands, either of the intended versions can deliver.
The Brahms trio—save and except for the closing measures of the “Adagio” which will remain in memory for a long time to come—was notable for its lack of truly sustained lines. Caution trumped abandon, allowing the liquid changes-of-register to sound but never soar. Perhaps the considerable strain on embouchure, left-hand and bow, as well as liquid keyboard weight was too much to constantly maintain.
The closing “Allegro’s” coda burned up copious notes with authority and verve, rightly drawing enthusiastic applause and cheers from the delighted patrons, yet if it had ventured out of the gate a metronome notch or two higher, the master of rhythm, pulse and drive would have had his genius revealed to even greater effect. JWR