Last Thursday evening, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presented a concert in the Rose Studio, high up in the Rose Building. The program consisted of two trios for clarinet, cello, and piano, and a sonata for two clarinets.
Three guesses whose sonata that was. Yes, Poulenc’s.
Before the concert, an official gave a talk, as is usual for the Chamber Music Society. This one touched on politics, just a little. The talk was short and sweet, however. Nothing to object to (even by me, a notorious objector).
To begin the program was a trio by Nino Rota. The film composer? Yes. He wrote other music as well. This trio, according to the program notes by Richard E. Rodda, was written in 1973 but not published until 2002, and not premiered until 2004. What took them so long? In any case, it was worth the wait.
The clarinetist was Tommaso Lonquich, an Italian. Good Italian (last) name, right? Is the clarinetist any relation to the German pianist Alexander Lonquich? Not sure. In any case, our cellist was Keith Robinson. And our pianist Wu Qian.
Rota’s first movement is Allegro, and it is immediately catchy. Is “catchy” a bad word? Does it make you think of ad jingles? Catchy is good, in my book. This music is immediately appealing.
As they played, our three participants phrased wisely. And all three of them sang. On his cello, Robinson was beautiful. On his clarinet, Lonquich was slick, smooth, and swinging.
The three players caught the spirit of this music. How can I say that, not having heard the music before? It seemed obvious.
Rota’s second movement, Andante, is a song for clarinet, and dreamy. The last movement has a wonderful marking: “Allegrissimo.” The movement is gay and cock-eyed. It has a Shostakovich-like, or Prokofiev-like, goofiness. Anyone would like to play this music.
But I must say, Keith Robinson seemed to get a special kick out of it. In fact, in my observation, he enjoys his work, whatever the music. And a player’s enjoyment can communicate itself to an audience.
A final comment about Rota: A few years ago, I did some writing about him, and I found a wonderful remark about him. Where did I unearth this treasure? Through some very difficult research in Wikipedia. Fellini said this about the composer: “He was someone who had a rare quality belonging to the world of intuition. . . . As soon as he arrived, stress disappeared, everything turned into a festive atmosphere.”
Wouldn’t you like that said of you?
Poulenc wrote his Sonata for Two Clarinets when he was just nineteen. And joining Mr. Lonquich to play it was David Shifrin, the veteran and superb clarinetist. They were on their feet, of course, which startled me: one is used to seeing clarinetists sitting down, in orchestras and chamber groups. But maybe the clarinet is supposed to be on its feet, so to speak?
Let me indulge in a cliché: the two players, in the first movement (Presto), breathed as one. They’re supposed to, and they did. I might say, too, that Shifrin seemed to lead the duo. He has a natural, and well earned, authority.
As for the music itself (the first movement): it is enjoyable, to a degree. But mainly, I think, it is disturbing.
In the second movement (Andante), the players were fine, of course. Just fine. They could hardly be otherwise. But I will be greedy and say, this music could have been smoother, more sinuous, more beautiful . . .
Poulenc’s third movement is marked “Vif.” Which is faster, Presto or Vif? Anyway, this is a matter of feeling, of musical intuition. The players were deft. And the music is nutty, virtuosic, and again, I must say, disturbing. It has a little humor in it—or does it?
With Poulenc, there is an ambiguity. It is one of his trademarks.
The concert ended with the Trio in D minor, Op. 3, by Alexander Zemlinsky. He wrote it in 1896, when he was twenty-five. I like Zemlinsky, and I feel defensive of him. He was terribly treated. By the Nazis, of course, who considered his music “degenerate.” But also by the post-war modernists, who denounced his music in just the same language.
I learned this from Michael Haas, a scholar and executive. And he used a memorable phrase: “second dictatorship.” That’s what Zemlinsky faced, a second dictatorship.
Much as I like Zemlinsky, I did not especially like his trio, which I had never heard before. It is Romantic, sincere, accomplished, and other admirable things. It is also a bit dull, in my estimation, being full of gestures rather than naturally developing music.
But did I write anything as good at twenty-five or ever? Of course not. And the players—Shifrin, Robinson, and Wu Qian—did well by it. Moreover, I would like to hear the work again, which might be a less disenchanting experience.
The concert was given twice on Thursday night: once at 6:30 and once at 9. I attended the earlier performance. And I should say about the Rota what I often say about music new to me: I feel as though I met a new friend. In fact, thanks to YouTube, I am listening to this music now (not as well played as in the Rose Studio).