For two years I have lauded the chamber series as one of the gems of the QCSO season. Three concerts a year, unique repertoire, and exceptional playing have resulted in memorable shows. But the January 18 Outing Club concert left me with an empty feeling inside, like I had just been part of a booster event for the symphony – heavy on atmosphere and panache, but light on music.
The evening was a two-part affair. The Outing Club provided a pre-concert meal at 5:30 p.m. for patrons who paid an extra fee. For those who just wanted to hear good music, the concert began at 8. For some the evening provided a medley of splendid food, baroque atmosphere, and good music, but some of us just wanted music to nourish us and to create the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the actual music performed lasted maybe an hour. Even with an unnecessarily long intermission, the concert was still over by 9:30. The symphony catered to the booster crowd and those who preferred a constructed evening instead of letting the music speak to the audience.
The concert began well enough with selections from Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, & Piano. It’s unfortunate that Bruch’s music (outside of his violin concertos) is largely unknown, because it dives right for the heart. A late Romantic, Bruch wrote music that often spans emotions and moods. The four pieces in the chamber-music concert helped establish a darker mood, one that would be offset later by Rossini and Mozart.
The performance was adequate. Molly Paccione was solid on clarinet and Mary Neil respectable on the piano, but Deborah Dakin’s work on viola was mixed. Clearly she understood the music and tried to divine the intent of the composer, but on this evening her viola did not cooperate.
It was Rossini’s Duet for Cello & Double Bass that stole the concert. As far as I know, this is one of the few small chamber pieces written for double bass, and after hearing Gary Palmer perform the demanding bass part, I wish more composers would follow Rossini’s lead. By pushing the limits of the bass, Rossini created a piece of music that was both enjoyable and inventive.
Commissioned by David Salomons for himself and bass virtuoso Dommenico Dragonetti, the piece darts along, a perfect example of the Italian style. Its confined structure and small scope were reminiscent of more traditional parlor music and fit with the Mozart theme of the evening.
The music then broke for a very long intermission, only to have the crowd re-convene for a brief and unsubstantial work by Mozart: Sonata No. 18 in G Major for Violin & Piano, performed by Alan Ohmes and Mary Neil.
As usual, violinist Ohmes did well, capturing the youthful vigor of the music without glossing over the demands of the sonata. Mary Neil complemented his work, helping to create a balanced performance.
I don’t mean to suggest that I was disappointed with the concert. I enjoyed the music, and the mix of pieces was diverse. Additionally, the performances were good overall. What disappointed me was the brevity of the concert, the lengthy intermission, and the secondary status of the music compared to the dinner social being held at the Outing Club.
For a concert that pretended to be a celebration of Mozart and his birthday, we got a brief violin sonata and a few short pieces with tenuous connections to the composer.