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Dusting Off The Jewelry

New York
Good Shepherd Church, 152 West 66th Street
09/21/2009 -  & Sept 21, 2009 (7:30 pm)
Robert Schumann: Märchenerzählungen(Fairy Tales) for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, Op. 132
Carl Maria von Weber: Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano in G minor, J. 259/Op. 63
Gustav Mahler: Quartet for Piano and Strings in A minor
Hans Rott: String Quartet in C Minor

Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players: Misha Vitenson, Lisa Shihoten (Violins), Cynthia Phelps (Viola), Inga Kapouler (Piano), Ani Aznavoorian (Cello), Barry Crawford (Flute), Vadim Lando (Clarinet)

C. Phelps (© Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players)

A friend once described Hans Rott as “a composer who died early so that Gustav Mahler could plunder his ideas.” While not exactly true, Hans Rott, an organist who died in an insane asylum at the age of 25, wrote one symphony which was rightly revered by Gustav Mahler. Rott had been a school companion of Mahler, a student of Bruckner, and a man who could well have overshadowed Mahler had he lived even ten years more.

Why this biography? Because the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players have once again outdone themselves with two concerts yesterday. The players were excellent, yes. But their choice of program was singularly original. It wasn’t that all four Central European composers died young (only Mahler lived to be 51), or that the works were relatively or completely unknown. The essential part was that all four pieces had moments of unexpected brilliance.

The Schumann and Weber are rare because their forces–clarinet-viola-piano, and flute-cello-piano–are hardly common. But each work was certainly worthwhile. The Schumann Fairy Tales was hardly Mickey Mouse music. From the beginning, this is dark music inspired by the Grimms, not Mr. Anderson. Less pleasant tunes than intricate interweavings of the three instruments, it was played with apt severity by the soloists. Clarinetist Vadim Lando danced his way through tuned ideally with New York Philharmonic principal violist Cynthia Phelps.

Perhaps it helps to know that Schumann was about to be placed in the insane asylum himself when this was composed, but those dark streaks he had in his brain incorporated themselves painlessly into all four inspired movements.

The Weber Trio started with equal darkness, a dramatic opening which promised great things. Instead, outside of the second movement, this was well-constructed pleasantness. That second movement, almost entirely for flutist Barry Crawford, was total charm. Nothing sophisticated, except in the playing, but the ländler folkish music was bright and solid. It shouldn’t take much effort to orchestrate this movement, as it could make a delicious encore work for any soloist.

After the intermission, the Jupiter Players gave the two rarest of works. The Mahler one-movement Piano Quartet had been hidden for decades, and even Donald Mitchell’s authoritative Mahler biography found no trace. Its discovery is more of historical than musical interest, though the 12-minute piece was never dull.

The Brahmsian sound did have a few measures of the authentic Mahler voice (out-of-kilter modulations and folk-like tunes), but the main Mahler imprimatur was the sudden change of moods. The strings and piano played with all the brio needed (violinist Misha Vitenson led the group with dashing élan), and the movement made its youthful point

Onto Mr. Rott. I have been an ardent admirer of his single symphony (though never having heard it live). Rott, an organist like his teacher Anton Bruckner, was a born orchestrator, and his horns, his brass fanfares and his sudden consort moods were far more futuristic than early Mahler. This first hearing of the String Quartet was not initially so impressive, although it is obviously the work of a man whose voice would have been loud and clear.

The opening begins with a tragic drooping interval, that is transformed in a dozen ways throughout the movement. Just when you think this will be a conventional sonata form, Rott takes another direction, but it all hangs together. The Adagio has a theme which echoes Swan Lake, but this hardly detracts from the wonderful inner feelings of Rott, feelings which could well have inspired Mahler’s Adagietto several decades later.

The next two movements are awfully strange. A brilliant scherzo–and then, of all things, a Haydnesque minuet. This was not a minuet parody à la Prokofiev, but the real things, give or take a few chords.

The finale had all the earmarks of Mahler: the grand theme, the diversions, and the recapitulation with even greater grandeur.

It was played with fierce dedication, like all which this wonderful concert series produces. More than that, they had discovered, in the final two pieces, two buried treasures, which, on the first day of Fall, , showed an autumnal golden light.

The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players

Harry Rolnick



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