by David K. Rodgers
In its second concert of the summer season, Caspian Monday Music presented works by Schumann, Weber, Guastavino and Reger, featuring stellar performances by the musicians on the oboe, clarinet and piano, at the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro, Monday evening, August 14.
“The Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, Op. 94,” by Robert Schumann (1810-1856), that began the program, was a particularly delightful piece. The first movement scored “Nicht schnell” (not fast), gave the oboe most prominence in its conversation with the piano. Oboist Igor Leschishin played with a very pure tone in an effortless flow that is the result of many years of professional experience. His ability to maintain prolonged passages without seeming to take another breath was a marvel of control. Steven Beck accompanied him with careful coordination on the piano. The second movement “Einfach, innig” (simple, heartfelt), had a particularly exquisite melody intricately developed, with a second theme in a slight shift of mood, then returning to the initial tune and winding down to a well prepared ending. Leshishin’s performance breathed with magical enchantment. The final section, another “Nicht schnell”, had a beautiful central melody, framed by somewhat darker themes in a typical Romantic,
light-dark dialectic ambience. Again, Leschishin’s total mastery of his instrument was an immense pleasure to hear.
Igor Leschishin was born in Ukraine and after his early musical training there, came to the United States and got his Master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. Since 1998 he has been the Principal Oboist at the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra in Washington, D.C. as well as being a long-time participant in the Summer Music from Greensboro and Caspian Monday Music series.
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) wrote his “Clarinet Quintet in B flat Major, Op. 34,” in 1811, and it has remained a perennial favorite in the chamber music repertoire. Here, Weber shows his deep understanding of the instrument, coming from his friendship with a famous clarinet player in Vienna at that time. The beginning movement, Allegro, had a theme which was lovingly explored in the full range from low to high notes, with playful sections where the soaring qualities of the clarinet were in full display. Victoria Luperi Franco showed her superb musicianship in her excellent tone and technical finesse. The Fantasia, Adagio that followed had a graceful momentum, very smooth and in a nicely restrained tempo, in which Franco really made her clarinet sing. The Minuetto, Capriccio presto Trio of the third part had a great interplay between the clarinet and the strings in a thoroughly engaging melody, with repeated bright trills up and down the scales, which Franco handled skillfully. The last movement, Rondo, Allegro giocoso, lived up to the intention of its title with a tempo and rhythms of youthful exuberance. The two fine melodies of the ABA sonata form here went through unexpected permutations and were obviously great fun for all the musicians to play, especially the clarinetist. Accompanying Franco were Solomiya Ivakhiv and Moni Simeonov on violins, Laura Sacks on viola and Francis Carr on Cello, all giving integrated support in this piece.
Victoria Luperi Franco was born in Argentina and, after her initial education there, she went to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Presently she has been associate principal clarinet and principal E-flat clarinet with the Pittsburgh Symphony since 2016.
After the intermission, Franco returned to perform a short work by Argentinian composer, Carlos Guastavino (1912-2020), entitled “Tonada y Cueca for Clarinet and Piano,” paired with Steven Beck. Starting with a laid-back melody in a tropical mood, it proceeded to a second tune with a more bubbly rhythm that evoked popular music, with a nice swing to it, up beat in feeling. The underlying vocal element reflects Guastavin’s major output, which was some 500 songs. Once again, Franco’s playing was all one could wish for.
“And now for something completely different”, as Monty Python used to say. The “Piano Quintet No 2 in C minor, Op. 64,” by the German composer Max Reger was a piece of daring programming, its four movements a challenging work for both musicians and listeners. The audience in particular needs to be prepared with some background information about this relatively obscure composer, who has been variously described as a defiant (or rigid) traditionalist and as a neo-classical or classical romanticist. The NPR Listeners’ Encyclopedia of Classical Music characterizes his work as follows. “His compositional style was an extension of the language of Brahms, steeped in the formal structures of the past. He was strongly attracted to variation form and was a master at the contrapuntal elaboration of material. His harmonic vocabulary was densely chromatic, given to rapid, unprepared modulations that impart tonal vagueness to his music.” The Piano Quintet we heard apparently had four or five different keys, with long crescendos and suffered from being too loud throughout, drowning out the more subtle dynamics of higher and lower phrasing. In short, this piece was not readily accessible. Perhaps it exists in that realm of “musicians’ music,” that they like to play but is difficult for the audience to appreciate. Our brains are compelled to find order in the world around us, and music is no exception. If we can’t hear patterns in why the notes go up and the notes go down, we become bored and then irritated. Admittedly, some works of music are so sufficiently complex or original that we need several hearings before we can understand them. Would this Reger piece qualify for that test? Personally, this writer’s notes taken at the concert on the four movements are amusing but not flattering, so I will diplomatically refrain from sharing them.
The pianist, Steven Beck, is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. A soloist with many orchestras and festivals around the country, he is presently artist presenter and performer at Bargemusic on the Hudson River in Manhattan. The other four musicians, previously mentioned in the Weber Quintet, were in the ensemble for the Reger Quintet.
We should all be very grateful to Theodote Coates and the Rodney Corporation for their generous support of Caspian Monday Music over many decades.