Monday, February 1, 2016

Mozart pieces marvelously reimagined in Chamber Music Northwest concert

Photo by Joseph Deiss
Guest Review by Rae and Woody Richen

In the Alberta Rose Theater, Thursday January 28, Chamber Music Northwest continued its winter series, "Masterpieces Reimagined." The program was Mozart, some pieces well-known and others rarely heard even in their original scoring. All were arranged for wind instruments.

The Alberta Rose Theater itself been reimagined many times. It opened in 1927 playing silent movies it continued adding sound films along the way. It closed in 1978 and was closed to the public for many years whiles being used in various ways including as a worship space and a place to show niche films. For several years now, the 300 plus seat theater and café has been hosting smaller acoustic events, including, thankfully, CMNW’s wind players. The room puts the audience next to the players: not a nuance is lost.

The fun of the evening was to hear a wind band transform music into unique sound. In Mozart’s time, such a band was called a harmonie. Each instrument in the CMNW harmonie has a distinct range of tone quality. The players used this quality to great advantage, giving the illusion at times of several quasi-human characters singing, or arguing, discussing, or trading insults as the music suggests.

Thursday’s harmonie included Allan Vogel and Martin Hébert, oboe, David Shifrin, Michael Anderson and David Hattner, clarinet, Julie Feves and Carin Miller Packwood, bassoon, William Purvis and John Cox, horn, and Sam Suggs, double bass.

Mozart’s sonatas for piano four hands K. 381 in D major and 358 in B-flat major, were believed to have been written during his teen years, probably to play with his sister Nannerl. Pianist Peter Serkin recently arranged these for wind band and double bass, an instrumentation that was popular among the aristocratic households in Mozart’s time, because of instrumental versatility and because a wind band could be less expensive than maintaining a full orchestra. The last movement of K. 381 was especially ear-catching. Suggs showed us that his double bass can imitate an oboe, and all the band played Mozart’s syncopation with agility.

The concert also featured four "Mozart Church Sonatas." These one-movement works were orchestrated by American clarinetist Dennis Nygren for hamonie, an arrangement based on earlier clarinet and piano arrangements by Israeli clarinetist, Yona Ettlinger. The Nygren arrangements maintained the feel of solo clarinet with supportive harmonie. David Shifrin played the solo clarinet part with acrobatic facility and wonderful shifts of tone.

Last on the evening’s harmonie selection were excerpts from the opera Don Giovanni, arranged by Josef Triebensee, a Vienna court oboist and composer. Triebensee made these arrangements shortly after the opera premiered, a typical practice for popular music then and now. The harmonie arrangement heightened the foreboding tension of the overture and the buffo character of Leporello’s storytelling aria. The naïve excitement of the young Zerlina, depicted by Vogel’s oboe, was a lovely contrast to the controlling seductiveness of Don Giovanni in Feves’ bassoon.

Mozart himself featured a wind band in the scene at Don Giovanni’s final dinner. Hearing Mozart’s audacious quotes from other famous operas displayed his humor playing in the background during a scene of destruction and horror. The Don Giovanni excerpts ended a splendid evening reminding us of the amazing range of voices available in Harmoniemusik. Our next party should have so much fun. (We won’t invite the Commendatore).

Woody Richen, actuary, and Rae Richen, author, have loved chamber music for eons. They play music together at home, and each is involved in playing and singing in other groups. Woody was a member of the Symphonic Choir for several years and presently sings with the Bach Cantata Choir. Rae has taught violin and viola privately, and violin and music appreciation for the public schools’ Gifted and Talented program. For more of Rae’s observations on many subjects, see her blog Rae: Always Asking.

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