ClefWorks Concert Works for Listeners
Published January 31, 2009
by James Conely
The Montgomery Advertiser
Clefworks scored a hit Thursday night in the first of its three-concert winter series.
The venue was a downtown renovated warehouse converted into a space of casual elegance on Coosa Street backing up to Montgomery’s developing Alleyway project. Three former Montgomery Symphony fellows and two of their equally accomplished friends presented a program of “Dance and Romance” well suited to interest those who want a balance of the unusual along with the traditional. It was also well suited to those who welcome informality and musicians who play in shirtsleeves rather than formal attire.
Concert dances filled the first half of the program, followed after intermission by the romance of a Schumann piano quartet. Violinists Andy Simionescu and Benjamin Sung, violist John Pickford Richards, and cellist Hrant Parsamian opened with three pieces from John Adams’ “John’s Book of Alleged Dances.” The most inventive and creative work on the program featured recorded percussion, which mostly over-shadowed the percussive rhythms and fragmented themes on the string instruments.
Astor Piazzolla, the master tango composer, continued the program with “Le Grand Tango” played by Parsamian and pianist Xak Bjerken. An exhilarating work, the performers capitalized on its improvisatory style. The strong rhythm of this piece was especially pronounced in the piano, which was somewhat unbalanced against the cello.
Sung returned to the stage to play Joachim’s transcription of four “Hungarian Dances” of Brahms and a Richard Barth transcription of a Dvorák “Slavonic Dance,” all accompanied by Bjerken. Sung played these virtuoso pieces with appropriate dash, but with warmth and lyricism for the haunting melodies against filigree patterns of the piano. The result was a display of very accomplished technique along with musicality in both violin and piano.
Schumann’s E-flat major piano quartet completed the program with Simionescu, Richards, Parsamian, and Bjerken playing violin, viola, cello, and piano respectively. After a tentative start on the first few, very quiet notes, these four musicians settled into a comfortable reading of the music, and by the end of the first movement they became a solid ensemble.
The “Scherzo” second movement was bristling, contrasting with the lush, melodic slow movement that followed. Then, launching into the “Finale,” these four musicians became increasingly possessed of controlled energy in a rousing, rapid flurry of notes building to a grand and powerful climax, followed by prolonged applause from a near-capacity audience.The program was substantial and varied, technically and musically ambitious, and played by musicians of superior artistry and ability.
James Conely is a recent Fellow of the NEA Institute for Classical Music Reviewers. A member of the piano faculty at Huntingdon College, he holds the Colleague Certificate of the American Guild of Organists.