Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Arneis Ensemble Does It Again!

Another Winter Solstice has come and gone. It's a day that, for me, begs introspection and also one that I look for comfort and warmth in, bracing for the coming winter. I was happy to spend my evening attending a concert given by Dan Doña and friends, Kristin Elgersma and Will Cicola - the second performance in the Arneis Ensemble Concert Series. The program featured Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio, Eight Pieces by Max Bruch, and Robert Schumann's Märchenerzählungen, all works for clarinet, viola, and piano played superbly by the three musicians. Overall, the group produced a warm and inviting sound and navigated the treacherous program with ease and grace. Kristin seemed to meld with piano and provided a solid foundation of sound for the group. Will's tone and intonation were unwavering, and Dan played with an elegance and confidence that I have not heard so consistently from him before tonight's performance.

The concert began with Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio. I love the quiet lonely warmth of this music. It makes me think of sitting on a couch near a fire, reading a book, and contentedly sipping a delicious brandy while the snow falls outside my window. It couldn't have been a more perfect way to start the evening in Hunneman Hall at the Brookline Public Library. I am intimately familiar with the piece, having performed it myself, transcribing the viola part for the English horn. Arneis gave a spirited and sophisticated rendition that was not entirely in keeping with tradition. I liked their slightly faster tempos and the risks they took in the virtuoso passages. The menuet was the best I've heard it played in live performance. I thought that Will's clear and resonant tone lent itself especially well to Mozart and I liked his style of articulation.

The Bruch was Kristin's chance to shine. The ease with which she drew sound out of the piano was especially apparent as she effortlessly navigated the many difficult arpeggiated passages in the six movements that they elected to play. I thought her quality of tone was particularly well-suited to the richness of Bruch's music. It reminded me of good Bordeaux, rich and powerful without seeming heavy with plenty of structure and depth to back it up. I also enjoyed the intimate sense of dialogue between the three instruments, and I thought Dan's lyrical style of playing was nicely showcased in the long lines that Bruch wrote for the viola. I noticed Will doing a little "circular" breathing, so I can only imagine how tough it must be to play through the lines on the clarinet. I have to admit, I was a little envious of the way he made this extended technique look so easy.

Schumann's Märchenerzählungen was the last piece on the program. I heard its last performance in Vianden, Luxembourg at the summer festival that we all attended together. I thought they played it well then, but tonight's performance was evidence not only that it's always possible to improve, but also that a period of time spent away from a work of music can increase one's understanding of its complexities. The piece is a great example of late Schumann; dense, enigmatic, and somewhat out of focus. I find it perplexing and amazing how he used such small ideas and spun them into a collection of four longish movements. I really liked the way that Dan manipulated color and character in the sound. It was as if he were channeling Schumann's own multiple personalities and how each one would be singing the lines that were written in the viola part. It gave the various movements the subtle color changes that they needed to remain interesting for the audience. I'll look forward to the next time I hear the group play them to see how they will continue to improve as they live with these difficult and puzzling pieces.

I was worried when the program was announced that I would leave the concert feeling like I'd just eaten a meal of sausages, potatoes, and bread all washed down with dark beer and followed by dense chocolate cake topped with a mountain of whipped cream - happy, but a little too full and slightly sluggish. Imagine how nice it felt to actually experience quite the opposite. At points, I nearly felt like dancing. The playing was polished, sensitive, elegant, and sophisticated. Grant, Kristin's husband, and I both agreed that we wanted more at the end rather than feeling overwhelmed with an evening of such substantive and thick music. I couldn't have asked for a more lovely Winter Solstice evening and now have a better outlook, as a result, on the long cold imminent New England winter ahead. Be sure to check out the next Arneis Concert if you can - did I mention they are free?!?! You won't be disappointed.
Please let me know about your upcoming performance in a comment below so that I might attend. If I'm not working, I'll do my best to be there. I'm always looking to hear great music!

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