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Celebration of a Century

New York
Weill Concert Hall, Carnegie Hall
10/12/2008 -  
Karl Maria von Weber: Grand Duo Concertante for Clarinet and Piano, Opus 48
Francis Poulenc: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Marin Valchanoff: Rondo for Clarinet and Piano
Roumi Petrova: Sonata For Cello and Piano, Opus 14, #1
Johannes Brahms: Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Opus 114

Laffchieva-Ivanov-Prinz Trio: Denitsa Laffchieva (Clarinet), Kalin Ivanov (Cello), Maria Prinz (Piano)

D. Laffchieva, K. Ivanov & M. Prinz

“Ah,” said my Bulgarian guest at this all-Bulgarian concert, “now you can truly say that this is Tova e sedmitsa na bulgarskata musika!

Well, she could say this, but my Bulgarian being a bit rusty, she needed to tell me that this was “Bulgarian music week” in New York. Not only did we have the prime pianist, clarinetist and cellist of Bulgaria here, but at the Metropolitan Opera this week, a most dramatic and realistic Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor was played by the great Bulgarian baritone, Vladimir Stoyanov. Whether this had anything to do with the 100th Anniversary of liberation from the Ottoman Empire I don’t know. But we could have celebrated even more if the Sofia Philharmonic made its ways to these shores.

In the meantime, the Laffchieva-Ivanov-Prinz Trio was in Weill Concert Hall with a presentable program and three excellent soloists. True, the three were only together once, but so far as I know, only a single composer wrote for these three instruments.

Yet in a way, clarinet and cello are appropriate for the occasion. Both instruments are the “human voice” of their family, both have registers which sound best in our own range, and both can express musical emotions which are close to our own.

Clarinetist Denitsa Laffchieva took over the first half with her very accomplished pianist Maria Prinz. Ms. Laffchieva plays with a lovely gentle tone, is able to give dark and light shades to even the fastest runs, and plays the most difficult passages with ease.

Not that the opening Weber Grand Duo Concertante was easy. Actually, Weber’s clarinet concertos are more interesting, but this chamber work had the advantage of the Weill Concert Hall. One could easily imagine Weber’s piece played in a setting like this hall. Weill has the three most beautiful chandeliers in Carnegie Hall, the setting is intimate, and the classical ornaments made the perfect background to the Weber.

The playing was nicely phrased, the instrument had a mellifluous timbre. Although the work is not great, one never became bored, since Ms. Laffchieva seemed most sympathetic to the piece.

But the Poulenc Sonata was more….well, more amiable to hear. It was typical of the French composer, filled with fake melodrama, petite circus tunes , and the clarinet twists which would tax any virtuoso, but which she took in her stride.

Cellist Kalin Ivanov is very young, very accomplished, and played his instrument with a lyrical bent and ideal phrasing. But being a solo cellist in a world of legendary colleagues—Du Pré, Rostropovich, Casals, Ma—cannot be an easy job. Mr. Ivanov has great virtuosity but not yet the personality of this most personal instrument.

Nonetheless, the finale, when the Trio came together for the first time, had better execution than the music itself. To restate the obvious, I can’t think of any other work for these three, though it would be fun to transpose the violin of Bartók’s trio to cello.

Johannes Brahms was, admittedly burned out when he wrote this, and had almost decided to give up composing. When he met the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, he was inspired again, but while the Quintet: and Sonata are fine works, this Trio is sedate, light, dignified, with schoolboy-perfect counterpoint .

Yet these three gave it everything they possessed. The slow movement was played most elegantly, and the Andantino had an innocent grace which was most endearing.

The two Bulgarian works were actually more interesting than the pair of German pieces. Marin Valchanoff’s Rondo was a trifle, but it allowed Ms. Laffchieva to offer no less than three glissandi, like the opening of Rhapsody in Blue.. She performed them admirably, and then went on with the jocular little bagatelle.

Although I had not heard of Roumi Petrova before, she is known as “The Bulgarian Mozart”, a moniker which doesn’t signify anything special. But she created an interesting work for cello and piano. The beginning “Journey” had the feeling of an unending but relaxed canon, with piano and cello stepping nimbly over each other. Ms Petrova remained faithful to the title as the movement did indeed move, rarely stopping for a rest. The second movement was an elegy, dedicated to the cellist’s father. The mood was appropriately somber, if not terribly inspired, but the cello, in the lower range, worked the tune over with suitable gravity.

The final movement, Rondo, was most fascinating. It was a trifle dissonant, more urgent than the other movements, but the dance tunes stood out, striking a note in my own memory. Yes, indeed, Bartók had composed Bulgarian “rhythms”, and while written nearly a century ago, Ms. Petrova inserted them with a most exotic effect.

Perhaps, as my Bulgarian guest noted, “We have heard this kind of music all our lives”, but for we uninitiated a full program of contemporary Bulgarian music in the year which celebrated the end of Turkish suzerainty might provoke more than mere respect.

Kalin Ivanov’s website

Harry Rolnick



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