Less familiarity breeds content

Review: The Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival lives up to its reputation of bringing little-heard works back into the light of day.

June 12, 2000|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Most folks zipping along Route 50 on the Eastern Shore at this time of year have only two words in mind - "Ocean City." However, for a few people, two other words come to mind - "chamber music." For 15 summers now, the Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival has been presenting intimate groupings of instruments in some of the area's quaint towns.

Directed by cellist Marcy Rosen of the Mendelssohn String Quartet and clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the festival, which wrapped up yesterday, seems to thrive on off-beat repertoire. This year's lineup displayed a particularly refreshing aversion to chestnuts. Friday evening's program at the bite-sized, acoustically dry Avalon Theatre in Easton was a case in point.

It opened with a work by Carl Reinecke, once a very big deal in musical circles. This German pianist, composer and teacher was associated with the noted Leipzig Conservatory for the last 40 years of the 19th century, and counted among his pupils the likes of Edvard Grieg and Arthur Sullivan. Reinecke's compositions garnered high praise for their melodic appeal and fluent workmanship. Today, he barely registers among most concertgoers.

His Trio for oboe, horn and piano offers a good example of what people have been missing. The piece aims neither for profundity nor complexity, relying instead on straightforward themes, rich harmonies and colorful use of each instrumental protagonist. It's pleasant, engaging stuff, and it received a pleasant, engaging performance from oboist Peggy Pearson, horn player Stewart Rose and pianist Robert Merfeld.

At the center of the concert was "Night Journey" by Bruce Adolphe,who was on hand to discuss his single-movement work for woodwind quintet. He compared it to the Art Deco trimmings around the theater's proscenium, and to a nocturnal train ride. The latter imagery was easy to hear - a strong sense of motion, the quick flickering of passing lights (thematic snippets darting among the instruments), an occasional blast of the whistle. Then again, Adolphe admits that the train idea occurred to him only after he wrote the piece, so there's no point getting too caught up in it. "Night Journey" works quite nicely as pure music, packing a good deal of character and contrapuntal playfulness within a concise three-part structure. Bloom, Pearson and Rose were joined by flutist Janet Arms and bassoonist Marc Goldberg in a nimble, thoughtful account of the score.

Dvorak's D major Piano Quartet hardly ever turns up these days, obscured by his other chamber music for strings and keyboard. But the folk-flavored work has its attractions, which were largely realized by the festival players, with Rosen's scello leading the way.

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