Joseph Pereira (b. 1974) : Echi Dromi (2001) 

                                                        Elizabeth Janzen, flute

                                                       Jared Soldiviero, percussion

W. A. Mozart (1756-1791): Flute quartet no. 3 in C major, K. Anh 171/285b (1778)

                           I. Allegro II. Andantino

                                                         Elizabeth Janzen, flute

                                                         Owen Dalby, violin

                                                         Meena Bhasin, viola

                                                         Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, cello

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Thomas Adès (b. 1971): Catch, op. 4 (1991)

                                                       Sarah Beaty, clarinet 

                                                       Owen Dalby, violin

                                                       Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, cello

                                                       Gregory DeTurck, piano

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Piano quartet no. 1 in G minor, op. 25 (1861)

I. Allegro II. Intermezzo: Allegro III. Andante con moto IV. Rondo alla Zingarese: Presto

                                                        Owen Dalby, violin

                                                        Meena Bhasin, viola

                                                        Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, cello

                                                        Gregory DeTurck, piano

 

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This chamber concert was the grand finale of the ACJW ensemble’s week-long visit to Mumbai, during which they interacted with hundreds of children and youth across the city, playing mini-concerts for them, and generally pulling down the barriers between the music and the listener.

The first work, “Echi Dromi” by Joseph Pereira for flute and an unusual percussion instrument (at a western classical music concert, at any rate) called doumbek was certainly a Mumbai première. Janzen and Soldiviero created a whole new sound-world, with flute technique being stretched far beyond its conventions, across the register, against a backdrop of ever-shifting rhythms. The work opened with a low, plaintive almost mournful drone from the flute. It gradually picked up tempo and momentum with all sorts of novel demands being made of the flute (e.g. humming the note while the flute sounds an octave higher) and doumbek (in some cases, Soldiviero had to “wipe” the surface to produce the desired effect). There was an extended flute cadenza toward the end followed by a “tutti” finale. “Never a dull moment” is one way of summing it up. I must confess I tried to look up the meaning of the title, but drew a blank.

Mozart’s flute quartet in C major (KV 285b) is now believed to have been written in 1781-82, perhaps in Vienna. It has just two movements. The flute (Janzen again) begins the work without any preamble, with an echo of the opening melody in the viola. The work had the feel of a concerto, albeit a very intimate one. The development section in the minor key ratchets up the musical tension just a bit before an almost seamless return to the opening theme, with a few twists thrown in for good measure.

The second movement (Andantino) is theme and variations. It is believed to be a simplified version of the sixth movement of Mozart’s Serenade for 13 wind instruments. There is such beautiful writing here for the flute that it might be hard to believe historical accounts that Mozart didn’t care that much for the instrument.

The NCPA’s Experimental Theatre with its rather dry acoustic might not be the best venue for chamber music, but the ACJW ensemble turned in a splendid performance.

They returned after a short interval to give us British composer Thomas Adès’ Catch, Op. 4, an extremely quirky work. I had the advantage of having heard it a few times before, so it has kind of “grown” on me. At first hearing it seems extremely disjointed, with an onstage piano trio (violin, cello, piano), with a clarinet hovering about. Is she heckling, or is she attempting to communicate with the trio? The trio themselves seem to bicker among themselves, sounding in places like high-pitched squawking birds. It’s all very atonal, and this listener found it difficult initially to establish a sense of direction to the composition. But interestingly, one gets used to this atonal, arrhythmic sound-world. That said, one encounters fleeting “glimpses” of tonality, in the sometimes chorale-like passages for all four instruments, especially towards the end. There was an unusual rhythmic passage, with percussive pizzicatos from the cello, but with the strings plucked behind the bridge.The conclusion was the high point of the piece for me, and just when it seemed like there would be some “resolution”, the very last note was a very violently struck high note in the piano.

The last work on the programme was Brahms’ piano quartet no. 1 in G minor. This for me was the high point of the concert, certainly the “main course” of the meal. I love the the opening dramatic, majestic sweep by the piano (perhaps not surprisingly, given that the composition apparently had Clara Schumann as its muse), like a curtain rising on a mystery thriller; a long melodic line. And then the entry on the “stage” of the strings, from the depths of the cello, through to viola and violin. Musicologist David Tovey described the towering first movement as “one of the most original and impressive tragic since the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony”. Yet there were moments of bright sunshine too: When Dalby’s violin and Bhasin’s viola euphorically sang together in unison in a radiant major key, it seemed that all was well with the world.  There were lovely passages of introspection and candour as well. DeTurck’s piano had just the right amount of weight and gravitas, without overwhelming the string trio. The strings for their part seem to have given a lot of thought to uniformity of phrasing, with quite sensitively matched vibrato and tone colouration.

The concluding Rondo alla Zingarese was played with great abandon, and at a rollicking pace. The movement seemed like one of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, only a lot more intimate and much more elaborate. Brahms biographer Ivor Keys wrote “It was obviously designed to bring the house down, and it did”. And how!

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