More zest, less filling
March 25, 2011
Although it’s no substitute for
the real thing, a scale model can have charms of its own -- and might
even enhance one’s appreciation of the full-sized original.
Consider, for example, Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Till Eulenspiegel’s
Merry Pranks,” a delicious staple of the large-orchestra repertoire. A
fully realized performance requires at least 85 musicians, and 100
would not be amiss.
An Austrian composer named Franz Hasenöhrl had the temerity to
boil the instrumentation down to just 5 players -- three winds,
two strings -- and that version was the centerpiece of an outstanding
Olmos Ensemble concert March 22 in First Unitarian Universalist Church.
Whatever the reduction lost in opulence, it gained in zest, freshness
and clarity. The music, dating from the last decade of the 19th
century, sounded more forward-looking than it does in the orchestral
version. It helped, of course, that the Olmos Ensemble was able to
field a first-class team comprising Ilya Shterenberg (clarinet), Sharon
Kuster (bassoon), Jeff Garza (horn), Matthew Zerweck (violin) and
Zlatan Redzic (bass), all of whom also play with the San Antonio
Symphony. The performance was equal to an international standard all
around. Mr. Garza’s brilliance and Mr. Zerweck’s muscular playing were
Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat,
Op. 20, for winds and strings is not frequently heard nowadays, though
the theme from the third of its six movement, a gently lilting
menuetto, is familiar from its use in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 20,
op. 49, No. 2. The piece as a whole is good-natured and spring-like,
sometimes revealing a wit that recalls Haydn. The starring roles are
assigned to the violin (here played with rich tone, elegance and
strength by Sayaka Okada) and clarinet (Shterenberg, superb as always).
Violist Lauren Magnus, cellist Barbara George, Mr. Redzic, Mr.
Garza and Ms. Kuster completed the excellent ensemble.
The concert opened with “Orpheus Singing,” a 1994 work for oboe and
string quartet by the Ukrainian-American composer Virko Baley. The
piece is structured like the traditional sequence of recitative, aria
and cabaletta from 19th-century Italian opera, but the idiom combines
modernist and Ukrainian folkloric elements, which lend an exotic,
Orientalist cast. The oboe (Mark Ackerman, playing with lovely tone)
opens with a sinuous, somewhat wistful solo introit, and the strings
then contribute somewhat dark, sometimes dissonant atmospherics to
the aria that follows. The finale is a lively dance with lots of
intricate interplay among the instruments.