Sunday, January 13, 2013

Heights Arts Close Encounters: Bach to Piccolo House Concert

Bach: Sonata II for Violin Solo in A minor, BVW 1003*
Villa-Lobos: Assobio A Jato ("The Jet Whistle") %^
Dick: Fire's Bird%
Prokofieff: Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 56&#
(*- Isabel Trautwein, violin; %- Mary Kay Fink, picolo and flute; ^- Tanya Ell, cello; &- Katherine Bormann, violin; Ying Fu, violin)
At the Barrie Residence, Cleveland Heights.

[Disclosure: I have served on the Heights Arts board since November, however my opinions are my own]

The third installment in a weekend full of music lead us to a Heights Arts house concert at the Barrie's beautiful home in Cleveland Heights for a varied program featuring Cleveland Orchestra musicians in a particularly intimate and informal setting.

Opening the program, Isabel Trautwein gave a thoroughly interesting introduction to Bach's Sonata II, including examples of some of the building blocks used, and a copy of a thoroughly terrifying page from the sonata's autograph. As terrifying as the score may appear, Ms. Trautwein's performance was anything but, certainly ranking among my favorite from the Heights Arts series*. I kept my eyes closed for most of the piece and just enjoyed the sounds; I occasionally had to open my eyes just to convince myself that only a single musician and instrument were at play; my ears were saying otherwise, particularly in the inner two movements.

Heiter Villa-Lobos' Assobio A Jato introduced a newcomer to Heights Arts concerts: Mary Kay Fink on an impressive flute with Tanya Ell's wonderful cello to bring a little bit of the warmth of Brazil to Cleveland Heights in January. While Ms. Fink offered a sense of airy weightlessness from her flute, Ms. Ell's cello anchored the piece; particularly in the second movement it was easy to imagine lying on a verdant hillside on a warm day staring up at clouds floating by in the blue sky. The piece's title -- translated as The Jet Whistle -- refers to a sound late in the piece that Mr. Villa-Lobos said reminded him of a jet engine.

Our new guest added a new instrument with the third piece on the program -- a piece that Ms. Fink commissioned from a mentor, an for solo open-hole piccolo. Ms. Fink gave a very interesting introduction to the piece as well as a quick lesson in circular breathing, but it was hard not to notice the width of the score behind her -- "Like many modern composers [Dick] doesn't do page turning" and "If you don't like this kind of music at least it's not very long" -- this is the first time I've measured a score as three and one-half music stands. The piece featured impressive technique but there was a weird harmonic at times, almost like notes were reflecting off the back of my ear and bouncing around in the ear canal, and the effect was disconcerting, almost like being under water and hearing someone talk. It was unique, if a bit atonal.

The last piece on the program featured Ms. Bormann and Mr. Fu -- two Cleveland Orchestra musicians recently granted tenure (congratulations!) playing Prokofiev's Sonata for Two Violins. Although the sonata checks in with four movements it seemed to be over in the blink of an eye with a slow-fast-slow-fast arrangement. From the relaxing andante cantabile, to the energetic allegro with a feeling a bit like the hard metals of the industrial revolution, back again to slow with commodo (quasi Allegretto) was more tender and transitory. In the final movement, as with those that preceded it,  the two musicians virtually functioned as one, delivering a final burst of energy to conclude the afternoon's performances.


*- [Footnote intentionally omitted]

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