Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bridge Chamber Music Festival

Last night was the opening concert of the 11th annual Bridge Chamber Music Festival in Northfield. The concert, at Urness Recital Hall at St. Olaf, featured works by Haydn, Mozart, and Mendelssohn, performed by members from the St. Olaf and Carleton music faculties.

The concert opened with a typically delightful and relaxed piano trio by Franz Joseph Haydn, who died in 1809, and ended with a typically frenetic and impassioned string quintet by Felix Mendelssohn, who was born in 1809. The contrast was striking. Despite a foray into the minor key in the slow movement, Haydn's trio was predominantly cheerful, full of invention and good humor. Haydn always makes me happy, even when, as they were last night, storm clouds are gathering. I imagine that Haydn himself had a warm and easy-going personality; in any case, he lived to the age of seventy-seven, an old man by eighteenth-century standards. Mendelssohn, on the other hand, died at thirty-five, and his music is tightly-strung and full of yearning. As bassoonist Jackson Bryce commented after the concert, "Mendelssohn always must have been on the verge of exploding."

Between the Haydn and Mendelssohn came Mozart's magnificent quintet for piano and winds, KV 452. The second movement larghetto was the highlight of the concert, with its beautiful interplay between the piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn. The movement is gorgeous, and its deceptive simplicity merits close attention. About a minute into the second movement (1:00 on this 1955 recording by pianist Walter Gieseking and the Philharmonia Wind Quartet), a lovely little phrase is tossed gently from the clarinet to the oboe to horn to the bassoon, and we get to hear it again with the repeat. The same phrase returns near the end of the piece (5:12 on the Gieseking recording), but this time it passes from clarinet to oboe to bassoon to horn. When this happened at last night's concert, I noticed Jackson's eyes light up as he glanced at horn player Caroline Lemen. It was so clear that he was enjoying every moment of the piece, and that delight was richly conveyed to the audience in all of last night's performances.

The second festival concert takes place Friday at 7:30 pm at the Carleton Concert Hall. There's a Young Artists' Recital on Sunday at 2:00 pm at St. Olaf's Studio A, and the final concert of the festival at Carleton next Tuesday at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available at the Northfield Arts Guild or at the door. For programs and more information, see the Bridge Chamber Music Festival website.

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