Sunday, June 3, 2012

Charles Wadsworth honored at Chamber VI

Big, bold sounds

Posted by Lindsay Koob on Sun, Jun 3, 2012 at 4:00 AM

The program on Saturday was big and bold — at least for chamber music. But the biggest thing that happened at the Dock Street today was what transpired after that program starter. We’ve known since February that former Chamber Series director Dr. Charles Wadsworth had been voted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. But, so far as I can tell, it wasn’t until May 25 that Nina Perlove, the organization’s director, announced that the she would officially induct him into the ACMHF and present a medallion to him on June 2 at the 1 p.m. Chamber performance at Dock Street.

Wouldn’t you know it, I had no idea when it would happen, or even if it had happened already. So I was delighted and pleasantly surprised to observe the event in person yesterday. Let’s duck past the program’s opening music for now, so I can tell you all about it up-front.

After the thrilling opening music had run its course, host Geoff Nuttall (who had announced at the outset what was going to happen) called Perlove and Wadsworth to the stage, amid thunderous applause. Perlove proceeded to deliver the official speech, citing not only Wadsworth's accomplishments as a world-class pianist and collaborator with many of the greatest singers, but as perhaps the world’s most influential and successful advocate and promoter of chamber music.

In the wake of more thunderous applause (and with a spiffy plaque in hand and a blingy medal around his neck), Wadsworth responded — with his usual humor and mock self-aggrandizement — with words to the effect that, “I am delighted and honored to accept this recognition. I would also say that I am humbled, but I don’t do humble.” I guess he’ll never change … but I don’t think we would ever want him to.  You should know that, of all the ritzy places he could’ve had this ceremony (like New York’s Lincoln Center), Wadsworth chose Charleston and Dock Street.

Well, I have to say something about the music now — especially since the unfairly neglected Austrian composer Ludwig Thuille is the composer of the “big, bold” opening work I’ve spoken of. This is one of the composers that series director Nuttall is most excited about exposing us to this year, and with good reason: he wrote some pretty darned good stuff. He was well-known during his rather brief lifetime (he died in his mid-forties), and one of his best friends and admirers was the much more famous Richard Strauss. Nuttall must really like him, ‘cause the final Chamber series program (and the festival) will end with one of his piano quintets.

Today’s selection was Thuille’s Sextet for Piano and Winds in B-Flat Major, a tour-de-force of chamber wizardry that remains perhaps his best-known work. This was the collective “last gasp” of this year’s complete series array of outstanding wind players: this is bassoon superhero Peter Kolkay’s final program (see my previous blog). But we’ll continue to hear from the most excellent colleagues who joined him for this work on “blown” instruments: flutist O’Connor, oboist Smith, clarinetist Palmer, and horn-guy Ruske: all among the finest musicians of their kind. Their musical foundation came courtesy of pianist Pedja Muzijevic. I won’t belabor the work’s four movements here; suffice it to say that this was chamber music that any fan of the genre would cherish.

The next piece (after Wadsworth’s Hall of Fame induction) was a short divertissement in the form of Henryk Wieniawski’s Etude-Caprice, Op. 18, No. 5. The legendary Italian violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini (who was reputed to have made a deal with Satan to gain his superhuman abilities) had started the 19th-century violin virtuoso ball rolling with his stupefying “caprices”: near-impossible technical exercises for solo violin that only he was capable of playing properly at the time. Not to be outdone, Polish-Russian violin virtuoso and composer Wienawski produced his own fearfully difficult caprices, and this is one of them. But it was scored for two violins, with the second playing a much less-difficult supporting role.

The performing duties fell to Livia Sohn (the hard part) and her husband Geoff Nuttall (the easy part). Sohn negotiated her part (a daunting, though musically lightweight exercise in thirds and sixths) with consummate skill and flair. Nuttall compensated for his lesser role with exaggerated flourishes and melodramatic gestures, hamming it up royally. It brought lots of laughs: you had to have been there to fully appreciate it.

The programs’ final work was a widely acknowledged masterpiece: Maurice Ravel’s highly colorful and virtuosic Piano Trio in A Minor, one of his finest chamber works. He wrote it in a hurry, as he was anxious to move on to his impending work as a nurse and ambulance driver on the French front lines during World War I (fortunately for us, he’d been disqualified for combat duty for medical reasons).

Hard at work on this one were Ms. Frautschi (violin), Ms. Weilerstein (cello) and Mr. Barnatan (piano). And they conspired to make it a true delight to both the ear and the intellect through all four of its movements. Sadly, this will be (after Sunday’s 11 a.m. concert) the final program for both Weilerstein and Barnatan. But, hey, there are plenty of fabulous players left who will keep us well entertained.     

Charles, please accept my personal and profound congratulation and thanks — as the Germans put it, “vom tiefsten Herzen” (from the depths of my heart). Having heard and marveled at your chamber programs for nearly two decades, the quality of my musical life has been significantly enhanced, and I have learned more from you about chamber music than from anybody else on the planet. So let’s call upon Spoleto’s chamber-loving hordes to lift their hearts and voices in a resounding “AMEN!” After all, it’s all your fault that Spoleto’s rabid chamber addicts keep coming back year after year.            

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