Longy School of Music of Bard College
April 29, 2023
Night Songs (Nachtliederen)
from String Quartet No. 3, arranged for winds
Sarah Brady, flute; Jennifer Montbach, oboe; Alexis Lanz, clarinet; Rachael Elliott, bassoon; Anne Howarth, horn
Chaya Czernowin (b. 1957)
Sarah Bob, piano
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Sextet No. 2. in G major, Op. 36
I. Allegro non troppo
IV. Poco Allegro
Gabriela Diaz and Omar Chen Güey, violins; Alexander Vivilov and Anna Griffis, violas; Miriam Bolkonsky and Eugene Kim, cellos
The two short twenty-first century works formed the first part of this program.
The first, by Longy composition chair Alexandre du Bois, was originally written in 2006 in a much longer, thirty minute, version for string quartet. Here, however, it was presented as reconfigured in 2012 for a woodwind quintet in a much more abbreviated way. The piece is a tribute to Etty Hitlesum, a Dutch Holocaust victim who, much like Anne Frank, left behind some memorable writings. Vividly embellished with Judaic melodic motifs, it calls up a sense of pervasive darkness while embellishing it with an impressionistic sensibility. Perhaps this embellishment offers a sense of the buoyancy of the young writer who persisted in the middle of terrible times.
The second, by Israeli-born composer Chaya Czernowin, is also impressionistic in many ways, though not at all dealing with the sort of heavy background material which inspires du Bois’ composition. According to Sarah Bob, who gave an inspired and evocative rendering of this short work, Czernowin indicated that the inspirations ranged from the sounds from a street and the motions of a swimmer. Bob explained in a few words before the piece that the repetition of the swimming motive might seem overly repetitive and numbing and suggested a different form of listening, more meditative, as a way of getting into it. Actually, thanks to Bob’s lovely playing of what might in less adept hands been incoherent chatterings, these episodic but evocative emblems of the theme came through with penetrating eloquence.
After the intermission, came the Brahms Sextet No 2 for strings. As explained by first violinist Gabriela Diaz in a few words before the piece, it was largely inspired by Brahms’ early romance with the only woman to whom he was engaged, and, in fact, includes a representation of her name in the application of its letters to the notes of the main theme in the first movement. Indeed, it is a passionate movement, and is followed shortly by a more playful dance-inspired Scherzo, a slow and reflective Adagio, and final exuberant conclusion.
Some particular notes on the performances:
Alexandra du Bois Night Songs
Lush opening, somewhat Semitic tonalities. Breaks into a gentle pacing interleaved with fanfare. Reflective and somewhat sullen, suddenly it marches along, perks up a bit with a village melody. The elements are almost like fragments of snapshots placed into a photo collage, striving for shape as though elements of what is recollected were trying to cohere. It comes to a rest, with several sighs, then a slow tribunal, a quiet forum for judgment. The oboe perks above seeking an answer, but then there is a return to deliberation, a meandering in the lower registers which finally fuses into a harmonious chord at the end, offering a kind of provisional resolution.
Chaya Czernowin, fardanceCLOSE
Tweeting. Birds? Rain? Truly lovely and expressive playing by Sarah Bob. Rumbling, with lovely textures, then very fragile flitterings. This is how impressionistic music should be played! Note fragments, but beautifully rendered. Elemental. Then more rumbling. Is this the swimmer coursing along? It’s repetitive, indeed, as Bob had warned in her introduction, but intoxicating in her rendition, a bit reminiscent of Charlemagne Palestine’s minimalist piano explorations, reverberating, adroitly punctuated by Bob. A drifting of notes, beautifully done, all the notes so eloquently depicted. A clarion call, followed by a slowing, though remaining insistent in its own way – it keepeth going! Maybe each pang is a swimmer’s stroke? It demands patience, coming again and again, but more slowly, ultimately satisfyingly, then relents.
Johannes Brahms, Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36
Allegro non troppo
Wavering viola, surging violin. A love song. Haunting approach from bottom. Earnest forces, busily building intensity, then creeping forward. Lyrical main tune, hurtling forward in counterpoint. A return to the wavering. The return of the main theme followed by syncopated meandering. Wanting a bit more passion, particularly in some of those searing first cello solos. First violist quite expressive. Haunting interspersed themes. Woven spirals. Though sometimes the interchanges among the players seem a bit ad hoc, the impetuous staccato passage packs a lot of punch, giving a sense of their really getting with it as the viola emerges, passes the theme to the first violin, and there is a dialogue.
A light little dance, like tiptoeing at night. Almost like mice going at it on the kitchen floor. Long lyrical runs fill out the lively stretches. More meandering and wavering. Then it searches from above, breaking into a romp and the ensemble does quite well here to convey a sense of exuberance. They jump, they kick, all done pretty convincingly, but a little more singing from that first cello would be welcome. The mice are back at it, and there is some nice plucking from the second cello, and then in the end the kind of tempestuous race in which this group particularly shines.
Subtle interchange of the two violins and viola 1. Builds gradually, with cello 2 breaking in nicely. Things are quiet, not really searching, but a nice hasty reflection by cello 2. Some intensity here – very welcome. Cello 2 breaks into it, a fierce statement. A wild exchange, with good energy. Then a lovely lyrical wandering theme. Cello 1 seems to do best in the rapid sections and in the slow, quiet places. A tonal variation, then it ends.
A vibrant, exuberant opening. The lyricism of the theme yearns to emerge. There is a little feeling of How The West Was Won here – expansive. Syncopation saves the day. A little more intensity. Still looking for the lyricism. At some points in some quarters a bit too passive, in others a lot of gesticulating but not to great effect. Violin 2 particularly good at the jumble. Violin 1 sings convincingly in the lower registers. It moveth along, the devil may care. Viola 1 pretty exuberant. Now they’re all jabbering in alternation, cello 2 pretty lyrical. They rock it with a little Geritol near the end.
– BADMan (aka Charles Munitz)