Woodwinds bring early spring feel to Edmond Town Hall

Concert Review - Danbury News-Times, Friday, February 14, 2003

by Jim Pegolotti

NEWTOWN - In the middle of this oppressive winter, on Sunday afternoon,
four woodwind players from New York brought a near capacity audience in
Edmond Town Hall a breath of spring. It was all due to the Newtown Friends
of Music presenting the New York Chamber Soloists - David Fedele, flute;
Melvin Kaplan, oboe; Allen Blustine, clarinet; Andrew Schwartz, bassoon.

It is very likely that few present had even heard one of the eight compositions
on the program, for concerts by woodwinds alone are a rarity. Oboist Kaplan
explained that his group had assembled the program over many years of
playing. What they provided was an experience both refreshing and springlike.

Except for an initial invigorating "Divertimento" by Mozart
(K.439b), all of the other works came from seven composers with a post-World
War I connection to Paris. And what a time in musical history that was.
Present in the City of Light in the early 1920s were Claude Debussy, Igor
Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, and the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos,
each represented on the program with a work.

Also performed were compositions by the "Downeaster" Walter
Piston and the French-born Jean Francaix, both students in Paris of one
of the 20th century greatest teachers of composition, Nadia Boulanger.
Also represented was Arthur Berger, a student of Piston's. Needless to
say, the afternoon's music abounded in French lyricism and Gallic wit.

All the music by the four exceptional instrumentalists proved eminently
listenable. Since the eight works had 28 subdivisions, no episode overstayed
its welcome. Debussy's "Syrinx" for unaccompanied flute, meltingly
beautiful as played by Fedele, was over in less than three minutes.

Each of the "Three pieces for solo clarinet" (1919) by Stravinsky
lasted about a minute and a half, but not before clarinetist Blustine
revealed the incredible variety of sounds the instrument can produce,
from dusky to jocular and frenetic.

The concert also evidenced the musical influences rampant among Parisian
composers. For example, the syncopation of "Le Jazz hot" emerged
in the third movement of Walter Piston's "Three pieces for flute,
clarinet, and bassoon" (1926). Also, the neoclassic influence - "looking
back" - emerged jauntily in the 8-part "Suite d'apres Corrette"
(1937) of Darius Milhaud, who used themes from the French baroque composer
Corrette. Everything from a fanfare to a minuet was given a modern and
jaunty quality, ending with a persuasively witty depiction of a deep-throated
cuckoo.

But the best was saved for the last: the "Quartet for flute, oboe,
clarinet, and bassoon" (1933) by the still alive (born in 1912) Jean
Francaix. The four movements had brilliant shifts of mood, yet with always
a clear sense of the role of each instrument, even in the trickiest interplays.
Humor blossomed throughout, as in the first movement's conclusion, when
each instrument in sequence produced the same upward swirl of notes, the
last being the bassoon's deep-throated sound. You couldn't help but laugh.

And you couldn't help but be thankful to have spent an afternoon with
woodwind players of the quality of those of the New York Chamber Soloists.
But let's not forget to also thank Paris.