Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CIM Faculty Recital: Samuel Barber Centennial Celebtation

Barber: Canzone, Op. 38a (Katherine DeJongh, flute)
Barber: Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 6 (Regina Mushabac, cello)
Barber: Adagio for Strings for violin and piano, Op. 11 (arr. Lanning; William Preucil, violin)
Barber: Four Excursions, Op. 20
Barber: Hermit Songs, Op. 29 (Jung Eun Oh, soprano)
(one unknown encore)
Eric Charnofsky, piano.

With the Cleveland Institute of Music I'm never exactly sure what I'll be getting -- of course, as a leading music school there's no reason to expect anything less than spectacular music -- but, rather, as far as introductions go there can be anything from nothing at all (the majority) to detailed overviews or personal reminiscences (rare but oh-so-enjoyable) and a little bit of everything in between.

Tonight, Mr. Charnofsky provided a fine example of the latter, weaving the program together with concise and relevant introductions delivered so as to be nearly indistinguishable from a radio announcer. Although the program consisted entirely of works by Samuel Barber, this weave combined with the program variety (excluding the piano no instrument appeared on stage more than once during the evening) it felt a little like a variety show with a great host.

Musically I have to say that I wouldn't call any of the pieces a new favorite but they each had their high points-- I'm used to the flute sounding a bit harsh to my ear; in Canzone, Ms. DeJongh had a beautifully rounded sound. In the Sonata, my initial impression was that the cello was dominant to the piano (to the point where the first few notes from the piano were nearly silent by comparison) but at the end of the piece it occurred to me that the two had nearly completely changed roles. Both had a beautiful sound, and the second movement (a combination adagio and scherzo) started lively and almost galloping turned introspective. Ms. Mushabac gave her cello a great voice.

As Mr. Charnofsky noted in his remarks Barber is perhaps best known for his Adagio for Strings and has a bit of a reputation as a funeral piece, having been played to announce the death of Roosevelt, and at the funeral of Einstein and Princess Grace, among others. I'm a 'New York Minute' kind of guy and slow music rarely agrees with me. In this arrangement for piano and violin (with Cleveland Orchestra Concertmaster and CIM Faculty member William Preucil), this deeply introspective and deferential piece was perhaps my favorite from the evening.

Following intermission, and a rendition of Happy Birthday for piano, we find ourselves at Four Excursions, for solo piano. Barber described Excursions as "‘Excursions’ in small classical forms into regional American idioms. Their rhythmic characteristics, as well as their source in folk material and their scoring, reminiscent of local instruments are easily recognized." In introducing the material, Mr. Charnofsky made reference to the fact that although Barber was an American composer, unlike for example Copland for example, he didn't generally make use of American musical idioms. In listening to the introduction and the piece I got the impression that it was written to prove that he could write to that style.

The first of the excursions (Un poco allegro) was a beautiful boogie-woogie influenced composition. During the the second (In slow blues tempo), I closed my eyes and drifted to a smoky, dark, low-key bar with a pianist in the corner playing the blues. The third movement (Allegretto) didn't really evoke any feelings: Either of place, as in the blues bar, or affection. The final excursion (Allegro molto) returned to that evocative feeling... this time to a bright celebration complete with dancing.

Closing out the program, Mr. Charnofsky was joined by vocalist Ms. Oh, for Hermit this collection of songs, based on a series ten of anonymous poems written by Irish monks. This was my least favorite of the evening. The concept behind it was good, there was variety in length and speed (I enjoyed The Heavenly Banquet, Sea Snatch and The Praises of God... the remainder moved quickly enough) and Ms. Oh has a beautiful voice. But on a whole this didn't move me.

The program, however, as a whole, particularly with Mr. Charnofsky's commentary and musicality, was a wonderful bit of variety within the works of one composer.


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