Bowdoin International Music Festival
Studzinski Recital Hall
July 20, 2018
by Christopher Hyde
An evening of youthful effusions made for a bumpy ride Friday night at Studzinski Hall as the Bowdoin International Music Festival entered its final two weeks.
The early opus numbers by Rachmaninoff and Brahms had the virtues and defects of their kind, while “Space Jump” (2013), Opus 46 of Fazil Say, explored the brave new world of classical mixed media, with mixed results.
Say, a Turkish piano prodigy and well-known composer, wrote “Space Jump” to memorialize the descent of daredevil Felix Baumgartner from the stratosphere to earth, during which he seems to have exceeded the speed of sound (not that of light, as stated in the accompanying video clip, which really would have been spectacular). He landed alone in desert scrubland, which made me worry about rattlesnakes.
The musical depiction, for piano, violin and cello, would have been fine on its own, rather like a transcription of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” for music box, but was accompanied by a rather pedestrian video and even worse text. Years ago, I was one of those who thought a poet should be the first man in space, but alas, it was not to be.
What spoiled it completely, however, was the logo of an energy drink on the space suit and its name dominating the film credits.
The evening began with the Rachmaninoff Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G Minor, written when he was 19, but not as a memorial to Tchaikovsky, although one of its themes is an inversion of the first four notes of that composer’s Concerto No. 1.
It shows a lack of experience in writing for strings, but already has the characteristic Rachmaninoff sound in the dominating piano part. Its best section is the concluding funeral march, in which the muted bass of the piano perfectly supports a melodic duet of violin and cello.
The Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25, which concluded the program, was written as a display piece, with flashy show-off sections that must have made the composer blush in later years. It gave his friend Clara Schumann a fine vehicle for her virtuosity.
Whether because of the composer’s youthful exuberance (and plethora of themes), or lack of rehearsal time, the performance seemed lacking in continuity. The piano part, played with bravura by Yong Hi Moon, took center stage, with two movements ending in solo cadenzas. The final one, a fiendishly rapid czardas, brought the house down, as Brahms intended.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.