Tag Archives: VentiCordi

VentiCordi Explores the Unusual

VentiCordi
Studzinsky Recital Hall, Bowdoin College
Oct. 29, 2016
by Christopher Hyde

While the musical avant garde set off in various directions, some rewarding and some not, many composers continued to write good, solid and interesting music in traditional forms, while also taking advantage of what Schoenberg called “the liberation of the dissonance.”

Last night’s concert by VentiCordi (wind and strings) at Bowdoin’s Studzinsky Hall, provided substantial proof of just how rewarding this style of music can be. All of the works were thoroughly enjoyable and some broke new ground with old tools, like St.-Saens. It is doubtful that anyone in the audience had heard these works before, but they were all readily accessible, beginning with a fine Trio for Flute, Oboe and Piano by British composer Madeleine Dring,(1923-1977) who wrote it for her husband.

It explores (very) close harmony between the woodwind instruments, and their subtle differences in timbre. One sometimes felt that the oboe became less “reedy” in close collaboration with the flute. It was given an outstanding performance by Bridget Convey, piano, Sarah Brady, flute and Kathleen McNerney, oboe.

McNerney appeared again, with noted double bass player William Blossom, in “Three Songs for Oboe and Double Bass, after poems by Pablo Neruda,” by Andrea Clearfield (b. 1960). The combination of instruments, as unusual as it is, was ideal for exploring the interplay of male and female as portrayed in Neruda’s erotic poems: “Body of a Woman,” “The Light Wraps You,” and “Every Day You Play.”

Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), who died of tuberculosis in a Nazi concentration camp, was once known for a relatively few works and the tragedy of a career cut short. Now that more of his compositions have been uncovered, he seems rather like Prokofiev, both daring and playful. As VentiCordi co-founder, violinist Dean Stein, said in opening remarks, Schulhoff wrote a piano piece consisting entirely of rests and indications, long before John Cage’s “4-33.”

His Concertino for Flute, Viola and Double Bass, played by Stein, Brady and Convey, sounded a bit like Prokofiev, without the Russian influences, especially in the comically quick-step Rondino that ends the work, in which the flautist switches to a piccolo for the final squeak.

I had heard the “Schilflieder” (Songs of the Reeds) for Oboe, Viola and Piano of August Klughardt (1847-1902) once before and remarked that it sounded like Brahms after one too many steins at the Red Hedgehog. Convey muted the piano part a bit this time, for a better balance of the parts, and a more lyrical, less bombastic, feel. No matter how interpreted, it is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of late Romanticism, full of Brahmsian harmonies and gentle melancholy.

The Trio for Flute, Violin and Piano (1958), that ended the program, was a virtuosic tour de force by Nino Rota, composer of the first two “Godfather” scores. Not very emotionally moving, without the images on the screen, but exciting throughout, concluding with a fantastically rapid Allegro vivace con spirito.

The program will be repeated Sunday, Nov. 6, at 2:00 pm. at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland.

VentiCordi: Food for Thought

VentiCordi
Unitarian Universalist Church, Brunswick
Aug. 17, 2016
by Christopher Hyde

VentiCordi (Winds and Strings), is one of Maine’s hidden treasures. Founded by violinist Dean Stein and oboist Kathleen McNerney seven years ago, it is devoted to presenting the repertoire of chamber music written for winds and string instruments. In the process it uncovers a few masterpieces, some unknown works and some very strange ones. All are extremely well played by musicians who love them, and all are fascinating.

At the penultimate concert of the season —the last is tonight at South Congregational Church in Kennebunkport—they were joined by Bridget Convey, piano, Laura Jordan, percussion, and Gary Gorczyca, clarinet, in a selection of works that were primarily contemporary but always accessible. The opening piece, “Tangling Shadows” by Nathan Daughtrey, based on a poem by Pablo Neruda, was tonal, light and romantic. The duo of oboe, MacNerney, and vibraphone, Jordan, was a marriage made in heaven.

Lou Harrison (1917-2003) was an eccentric composer who studied with the equally iconoclastic Henry Cowell. His “Varied Trio,” for Violin, Piano and Percussion, is an eclectic romp that can be enjoyed by anyone. Its percussion effects, which include pitched rice bowls filled with water (not Sake), plucking on the piano strings and hypnotic drum patterns, were especially effective, and his “Rondeau in Honor of Fragonard” also honored Ravel, whose “Tombeau de Couperin” it rivals.

Even more unexpected was the Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, Op. 157b, by Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) which has everything. The other day I disrespected the marimba as being incapable of tragedy. Its bass notes in the suite’s Divertissement proved me wrong, being lugubrious in the extreme, followed by a joyous fete in Jeu, and a totally jazzy Introduction and Final.

After intermission, the “Schilflieder” (Reed Songs) for oboe, viola and piano, of August Klughardt (1847-1902) sounded like Brahms after too many beers—sentimental, showing off gloriously obvious harmonies, and a florid piano accompaniment full of sturm und drang, giving Convey a real workout. It is easy to see why Klughardt was extremely popular in the last days of German Romanticism.

The composer, Stephen Michael Gryc, introduced his “Dream Vegetables” for voice, clarinet, violin and marimba, based on poems by Maggie Anderson, which depict not dreams OF vegetables, but BY vegetables, including exposure, falling, nightmare, insomnia, recurring and flying.

The poems are whimsical, and so are the sometimes minimalist settings, which nevertheless capture dream states unerringly. The bass marimba makes its appearance again in underground sequences. They were dramatically read by McNerney. In case you were wondering, it is the radishes who have insomnia, pacing up and down in their red and white pajamas.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

VentiCordi Program Sparkles

VentiCordi Chamber Music
Woodford’s Congregational Church
Nov. 8, 2015
by Christopher Hyde

There are few chamber music concerts without dead spots, but VentiCordi managed that feat on Sunday at Woodfords Congregational Church, under the auspices of the Portland String Quartet. Every piece on the program sparkled, or, in the case of Schoenberg’s “Ein Stelldichein” ( A Rendezvous) glowed like a black opal.

The Schoenberg, unfinished at 77 measures, comprises an entire dark world of loss and sorrow, and transfigures it. A companion piece to the more famous “Verlklarte Nacht,” also based on a work by Richard Dehmel, it goes further in the direction of atonality.

The composition does not follow the poem directly but creates a similar atmosphere, in which “The foliage hangs silently on the wet shrubs as if the leaves had drunk poison…”
It was lovingly performed by Kathleen McNerney, oboe, Kristen Finkbeiner, clarinet, Dean Stein, violin, Andrew Mark, cello, and Bridget Convey, piano.

The score has too many beauties to enumerate in a review, but I was particularly impressed by the winds and strings (VentiCordi) feeding on the overtones of massive piano chords, reminiscent of Brahms. The piano also managed cascades of falling leaves.

The work preceding it, “Fragments for Oboe, Clarinet and Cello,” by Robert Muczynski (1929-2010), also had its moments of sadness, but cheerfulness kept breaking through. The second fragment, “Solitude,” allowed the oboe to describe ripples on a black lake, a la “The Swan of Tuonela,” while the “Reverie” sounded like Copland in an introspective mood. The final “Exit” ended on a surprising tonic chord, like a Bach prelude.

A Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano by “Saber Dance” composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) came as a surprise for its professional finish. Written when the composer was still a student, it contains all of the elements of his later work, with ethnic melodies and driving rhythms plus steppes music straight out of Borodin. The interweaving of the three voices was masterful. Either Khachaturian’s talent sprang full-blown or he developed little after his student days.

Eight Duos for Violin and Cello, Op. 39, by Reinhold Glière, were charming, especially to those brought up on his tutorial piano pieces. They too were lessons in form, melodic but exact. The second one, a Gavotte, sounded entirely authentic, as if the composer were writing in the 18th Century. Where his contemporary, Prokofiev, would have parodied it somehow, Glière plays it straight, which is somehow refreshing.

From a compositional standpoint, the only work on the program comparable to the Schoenberg was a Quartet for Piano, Oboe, Violin and Cello, by Bohuslav Martinû.(1890-1959). Written when the composer was recovering from a serious accident, it is nevertheless entirely upbeat, except for a somewhat brooding adagio. The final Poco Allegro, which could have been written by Stravinsky, is a scherzo, with a joke phrase that sounds like “a tisket, a tasket.” If anyone needs an accessible entree to “modern” music, the quartet has it all.

VentiCordi, founded by Stein and McNerney in 2009, deserves our thanks for bringing these delightful works to life. The performance of neglected music is unusual; to have it done so well, without any flavor of academia, is rare indeed.