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LATEST REVIEW FOR NEW AMERICAN MASTERS, VOL. 4

"This is an enjoyable recital, both in the music and performances. ...Recommended to those who enjoy well-written woodwind music, and to others interested in exploring worthwhile music by American composers who are not yet household names." (Fanfare)
 

PV's New American Masters - Vol. 3 chosen for Fanfare Magazine 2010 WANT LIST!!

"The Palisades Virtuosi is a seemingly odd ensemble of flute, clarinet, and piano. Like the Verdehr Trio (violin, clarinet, and piano), there is a lack of repertoire for their instrumental combination. As a result (and like the Verdehrs), they commission contemporary composers to write for them, making the case, eloquently, that the millennium-large realm of stuff that inhabits this magazine is not something that was, but something that is. Their performances are technically faultless and illuminating. I chose Volume 3 for my Want List, but Volumes 1 and 2 of this ongoing series are equally meritorious." - William Zagorski - Fanfare Magazine


We are thrilled with our recent reviews in Fanfare Magazine as well as being selected for their annual WANT List!
Here are a few choice quotes!
"These performances by the PV are definitive in both the quality of their technical execution and staggering stylistic command.  Having  heard them in live concert, I can say that the sound on these two offerings does them justice.  I favorably reviewed Vol. I of the PV's New American Masters series back in Fanfare 30:06.  In fact, I rated it as a contender for Want List material.  These subsequent two volumes in no way dim my enthusiasm.  The NJ based PV are truly definitive.  That is to  say that their standard of playing is both masterful and in full support  of the contemporary composers who have contributed and will continue to  contribute to their growing repertoire.  They and their composers are exploring, and revealing, the possibilities of their unique ensemble..."
- William  Zagorski - Fanfare Magazine

"The first of this series [New American Masters, Vol. I] received  high praise, so it was with keen anticipation that I heard their second installment...The finale of [the Frank Levy] is a virtuosi tour de force,  and the trio plays with superb accuracy and verve...[Gary Eskow's] piece  depends on a heavy dose of personality from the performers, and they deliver in spades...Allen Shawn's "Three Nightscapes" is a far more  serious work, with tricky metric and rhythmic patterns (not to mention  gobs of fast notes), and the trio seems to revel in the challenges...Needless to say, performances and recording are of the  highest standard, and one is left to wonder why this trio combination has  been so neglected.   The three performers are as fine as their  moniker suggests, and their admirable mission is to build a sizeable repertoire for their instrumentation...There is not a single detail of execution or recorded sound to quibble with here, and fans of all three instruments will find much to admire and emulate.  Sustaining a repertoire is a noble cause, but creating one is a feat few dare to attempt with such sustained effort.  Kudos to PV for their noble mission.
- Michael  Cameron - Fanfare Magazine

To read the full reviews click on the following links!

Review of Volumes 2 & 3 - William Zagorski
Review of Volume 2 - Michael Cameron
Review of Volume 3 - Michael Cameron


American Record Guide - November/December 2010

"This is a delightful program. I think most listeners will the works rewarding,
and the Palisades Virtuosi perform them with grace and command."

Read the full review


Fanfare Magazine 2007 & American Record Guide 2007

Highlights from the reviews for "New American Masters - Volume 1".

"The stylistic and emotional range of this release is as extraordinary as is Palisades Virtuosi’s fine-tuned ensemble work...  In terms of intonation, articulation, and musical insight, Palisades Virtuosi represent the best of our current world-class standards."

"Now for some really good news—this one is a pure winner! ...feelings of relief and delight flooded my soul as each new piece proved its mettle. The sound is terrific and the performances couldn’t be better."

"A splendid program of recorded firsts..."

"Performances by the Palisades Virtuosi are alert, lively, and infused with the pleasure of discovery."

Review of Volume 1 - Fanfare Magazine - William Zagorski
Review of Volume 1 - Fanfare Magazine - Steven Ritter
Review of Volume 1 - American Record Guide - Mark Lehman


Recent Concert Reviews  -  Classical New Jersey Society
WOODSTOCK TIMES
BALANCE IN COLLABORATION • written by Leslie Gerber
Thursday, 04 March 2010

Review of the Sunday February 28, 2010 Palisades Virtuosi Concert
Saugerties Pro Music

Despite the lack of concerts by the Hudson Valley Philharmonic and Woodstock Chamber Orchestra and the postponement of Esopus Musicalia, February was an unusually rich month for classical music in our area. I didn’t even manage to get to everything I wanted to hear, but I caught a lot… My musical month concluded on February 28 with Saugerties Pro Musica’s presentation of Palisades Virtuosi, an ensemble of flute, clarinet, and piano. Much of the music on this program, “Music From the Americas: Rhythmic, Flashy, and Fun!" was written for the ensemble, part of its mission to create a repertoire of works for its combination of instruments. All the new works were entertaining and worth hearing. I enjoyed the tango rhythms of Palisades Rush by Sergio Garcia-Marruz; the breezy Trio from Rio by Donald Draganski; the lyricism of Aaron Grad's Lepidopterology; and the dancy variety of three-fourths of Four Movements for Virtuosi by Carlos Franzetti. Still, I have to admit that the two pieces of older music, which were also rhythmic, flashy, and fun, seemed to have more substance: Villa-Lobos's Choros No. 2 for flute and clarient and Ginastera's Danzas Criollas for solo piano, brought off triumphantly by Ron Levy despite a somewhat limited instrument.

What really made this concert a success was the brilliance and flair of the ensemble, which also includes flutist Margaret Swinchoski and clarinetist Donald Mokrynski. Hearing musicians this good, so obviously enjoying their collaboration, would make almost any program worthwhile. When they return to Saugerties, as I hope they will, I would like to hear them take on some better-known music, even if the ensemble has to fragment itself again -- say, Poulenc's Flute Sonata or Stravinsky's Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet.

The Saugerties Pro Musica series continues on March 21 with a jazz performance by the Lee Shaw Trio, again at Saugerties United Methodist Church, Washington Avenue and Post Street, at 3 p.m. There's plenty of  information about this series at www.saugertiespromusica.org.


The following reviews are printed with permission from the Classical New Jersey Society Journal
 

Jan 17, 2004          March 12, 2005          April 22, 2005        June 11, 2005        March 25, 2006        April 1, 2006


New music, little-known music ...

... and Brahms

Saturday, October 30, 2006
By Paul M. Somers - Classical NJ Society

Palisades Virtuosi: Margaret Swinchoski (flute), Donald Mokrynski (clarinet), Ron Levy (piano). C. P. E. Bach: Trio No. 3; Brahms: sonata no. 2 in E-flat, op. 120, no. 2; Frank Ezra Levy: Trio no. 2; Walter Gieseking: Sonatine for flute and piano; Michael Webster: “Magic Flute” Fantasy. Unitarian Society, Ridgewood.

Once again, the Palisades Virtuosi’s practice of always including a premier on each of its series concerts (and even sometimes on non-series concerts) produced very fine music. In this case it was by Frank Ezra Levy, a composer of eminence not only in New Jersey, where he makes his home, but around the world.

The work is very lyric but not sweet. In spite of its trio instrumentation, its scope and shape are symphonic. Virtuosity from all is a basic requirement: The first movement’s growing climax depended most especially on Ron Levy’s technique; the most obvious virtuosity in both the Vivace and Andantino movements was in the hands of flutist Margaret Swinchoski and clarinetist Donald Mokrynski; and the Molto Vivace finale flew along with everybody’s fingers flying.

For all its technical demands, this is no mere fireworks display. Indeed, the serious ethos of the music was evident from the first meditative notes of Mokrynski’s opening solo. This is tightly made music of deep craft as well as feeling. Like a fine dramatist, Levy creates passages for the instruments alone, in pairs, and with all three involved, each “scene” filled with drama.

Particular highlights included the statement of the Vivace’s theme in octaves by flute and clarinet, which was remarkable for its clear intonation; the subsequent *Andantino’s opening lyrical flute and clarinet
duet, and the finale’s fughetta played at show-stopping speed.

The audience was quite obviously pleased, bringing the composer and the players back for bows several times.

The other surprise of the concert was a Sonatine for flute and piano by Walter Gieseking — yes, the famed pianist. In spite of his German birth and name, he was perhaps best known as an interpreter of Debussy. This French affinity was well demonstrated in his own music. One was more aware of hearing “in the moment” and of color, both French attributes, than of the narrative sense that so inhabits Germanic music. The Allegretto was a lovely barcarolle or sicillienne and the final Vivace flowed along like an Alsatian breeze.

Ms. Swinchoski was introduced to the piece by Metropolitan Opera flutist Trudy Kane, who has championed it since uncovering it herself.

The Trio no. 3 by C. P. E. Bach was played by harpsichord, flute, and clarinet. Exactly what that is we were not told, but C.P.E. wrote some trios for two treble instruments and piano in the decade after his father’s death, and we are left to believe that this was one of those.

That it was composed by a son of the composer of the Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 was quite evident in the busy harpsichord writing. But it was also evident that the composer was an innovator. The music is elaborate with strange endings to the movements, using what were called “feminine” endings and dropping the bass line in a very un-baroque fashion. Only in the final Presto were the two wind instruments truly challenged as the two whirled around in canons and gimel episodes. The “fun” aspect of the music was clearly progenitor to some of Haydn’s quirkier musical humor.

Though little-known as a work in its own right, Michael Webster’s “Magic Flute” Fantasy had a great deal of fun for all three trio members as it played with various parts of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte Overture, Papageno’s “Der Vogelfänger bin ich, ja,” Monastatos’ aria, and the first Queen of the Night coloratura exercise. There was plenty of fingerwork for all and the challenges were understood by the appreciative audience.

Last mentioned because it was by far the best-known work on the program (it was actually second on the program) is Brahms’ Clarinet Sonata no. 2 in E-flat. Mokrynski and Levy had every nuance worked out yet sounded as if it were all spontaneous. The first movement’s second theme simply melted into the ear, the second movement’s “B” section was resonant and noble. The nastiest piano episode in the third movement was handled with aplomb by Levy.

As usual, the Palisades Virtuosi put together a concert filled with the new, the lesser-known, and at least one popular favorite — quintessential smart programming.
 
 


East of the Hudson, West of the Delaware

Musical sashimi
"An Ondine repast"
Saturday, April 1 , 2006
By Amanda von Goetz

Palisades Virtuosi: Margaret Swinchoski (flute), Donald Mokrynski (clarinet), Ron Levy (piano). Olga Gorelli: Song of the Mermaid; Chaminade: L'Ondine; Godfrey Schroth: The Sea Nymph; Paul Mack Somers: Ondine Visions (premiere); Barab: The Sea Princess; John Lampkin: Offdine. Bruno Walter Auditorium, Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, New York City, NY.

The Palisades Virtuosi continued their three-concert exploration of musical works inspired by Ondine with "An Ondine Repast" - a program, which featured a collection of mostly contemporary works based on the tragic fairy tale. Each piece was cleverly marked in the program notes according to its role: The Appetizer, First Course, Sorbet, Second Course, Third Course, and Just Desserts. Recipes for two world-premieres and two New York premieres peppered this delightful menu, and iron chefs Margaret Swinchoski, Donald Mokrynski and Ron Levy joined forces to add "a few hints of flavor, a sauce to baste, a splash of wine, and salt to taste."

It should here be noted that the original story of Ondine is actually quite a harrowing one. Long ago, a beautiful German freshwater nymph named Ondine made a life-altering decision to trade in her sea legs for human appendages when she fell hopelessly in love with the dashing mortal, Sir Lawrence. She married him, bore his child, and made ready for the ultimate "happily ever after." But alas, Sir Lawrence was a fickle homo sapien and soon found himself in a barn in the arms of another woman. Ondine, furious, put a curse on her husband, which eventually (and purposefully) resulted in his death - a strikingly productive way to work out marriage issues indeed. The origin of this story is not exactly the stuff of Disney dreams, and personally I preferred their version of "The Little Mermaid," just because I'm a sucker for happy endings.

Paul Mack Somers' world-premiere piece for flute, clarinet and piano, Ondine Visions, was by far the most intellectually serious and experimental work on the program. Prior to its unveiling, composer and New Jersey arts mogul Paul Somers appeared before the audience to provide some insight into the conception of his fascinating new piece. "Ondine is somewhat of a cautionary tale," he began, "it's about not trusting people who are different. But I wrote this piece to reflect my belief that there is good in all people, and I wrote an inner light into the text in the form of a trill. The work itself ends on this trill. It ends with the inner light as a reminder that if there is Original Sin, there must therefore also be Original Virtue."

Somers humorously quoted an opening figure in the piano that was similar to Ravel's "Ondine" (from "Gaspard de la Nuit"), before introducing a rich harmonic dialogue between flute and clarinet. There were several returns to the opening "shining light" throughout the work, and several sweeping lines of consonant harmony emerged as the music sailed on. A motive that channeled the sarcastic humor of Prokofiev appeared later on, set against the backdrop of a pulsing rhythm that renewed a vibrant sense of drive at every twist and turn. The piece as a whole, while it maintained its strong programmatic motivation, seemed fresh and spontaneous; a constantly evolving structure that kept listeners both eager and entertained. Indeed, Ondine Visions concluded upon its own "shining light," as played by pianist Ron Levy to a sparkling perfection.

Equally as enjoyable for a host of different reasons, was Godfrey Schroth's world-premiere, The Sea Nymph for bass clarinet and piano. "This is the first time I've ever had a premiere on April Fool's Day," the kind gentleman chuckled, "I didn't write this piece with a specific story in mind, but I did write it for bass clarinet because of its register depth. In my mind, mermaids come from deep down in the sea."

And Schroth's story did begin twenty thousand leagues under the sea. The hollow, creamy sound yielded by Mokrynski's bass clarinet submerged listeners in a very exotic color world, a stark contrast against ethereal ringing tones from the top registers of the piano. Levy and Mokrynski performed swimmingly and together they captured a wonderful sense of aimless wandering through watery textures.

Even though Schroth may not have carved out a specific programmatic storyline for The Sea Nymph, perhaps he didn't have to. There have been many great works of art which were based on a specific inspiration from the creator, but there have probably also been an equal number which weren't. Sometimes listeners are invited to create their own stories to accompany given melodies, and if a composer is able to affect listeners deeply enough so as to inspire them to push the boundaries of their own imaginations, he may automatically consider himself a success.

Speaking of successes, there was a bona fide TV-superstar in the house that afternoon. Bob McGrath, best known for his role of "Bob" on Sesame Street, who played the enchanting storyteller that visited my living room everyday for as long as I could remember, suddenly appeared on stage before me. To the wonderfully effective text and comedic musical score of Seymour Barab's The Sea Princess, McGrath delivered a fantastic narration in retelling the story of The Little Mermaid, anew.

He sang superbly, he commanded the text, he laughed, he cried, and he soothed. The reading was so alive, so friendly, and so polished, that it nearly brought tears to my eyes. McGrath beamed with a special magic, the very same magic which has made him into one of the most-loved people in the entire TV world, and every child, parent, and grandparent in the room shared one common, wistful smile.

Olga Gorelli's Song of the Mermaid and John Lampkin's Offdine book-ended the Virtuosi's performance. The shortest and lightest pieces on the program, they were the perfect choices to begin and end the concert. Offdine for flute and piano particularly proved a cute little ditty that included quotes from Ravel's Ondine, Mancini's Moon River, John Williams' Jaws, and even Chopin's Ballade No. 1, amongst several other familiar tunes. A lot was accomplished in the performance, which lasted all of ninety seconds.

While on the subject of Chopin, the program also featured a work by Cecile Chaminade (1857-1944) entitled, L'Ondine. It seems that Ms. Chaminade may have been somewhat under the influence of old Fredrick, for her melodies bore some resemblance to the style of his nocturnes and other shorter works. In all fairness, though, Chopin she was not. But the easy-listening tunes would serve up nicely if converted to the more primitive form of bubble-gum pop.


Women composers ...
... except Mozart

Saturday, March 25, 2006
By Koren Cowgill


Palisades Virtuosi: Margaret Swinchoski (flute), Donal Mokrynski (clarinet), Ron Levy (piano), guest artist Patrizia Conte (mezzo-soprano). "The Women Speak: in celebration of Women's History Month." Music by Madeleine Dring, Mozart, Chaminade, Fanny Mendelsshon Hensel, Caroline Newman: Fantasie (premiere), Amy Beach, Gladys Rich, Katherine Hoover, and Libby Larsen. Unitarian Society, Ridgewood.

The Palisades Virtuosi presented a concert entitled "The Women Speak." And they spoke with conviction as the Palisades Virtuosi, consisting of pianist Ron Levy, flutist Margaret Swinchoski and clarinetist Donald Mokrynski, with guest artist Patrizia Conte, performed this music as if they had it in their blood. The concert was given in celebration of Women's History Month.

Madeleine Dring, a composer of the Twentieth Century, was introduced first on the concert. Her [Trio for flute, clarinet and piano] began with a playful Allegro con brio. Much of this movement consisted of banter between the flute and clarinet over jaunty boom chick-chick type accompanimental figures in the piano part, a technique befitting the jocose nature of the opening movement. The clarinet and flute soared over the piano, mostly playing off of one another or together in thirds. The second movement, marked Andante semplice, which the composer wrote symbolizing a love duet for her and her husband, opens with romantic chords in the piano part. The clarinet then entered with a very poignant melodic line played beautifully over the piano accompaniment. After the flute entered, taking over the melody, the clarinet entered with the melody again. This time he began with a sustained note blossoming into the melody along with the flute's counter-melody. All the while there were lush chords in the piano part. Towards the end of the movement the flute and clarinet ascended in thirds and their sounding together was entirely appropriate for a love duet. The final movement, marked Allegro giocoso, is the most playful and capricious of the piece, opening furiously with the piano and then followed by the highly animated lines of the clarinet and flute. Here the melodic lines are angular. The flute and clarinet played off of one another in the midst of flamboyant piano interludes. Particularly entertaining were the wild passages of piano scale work. Toward the end of the movement the flute and clarinet played an exciting cadenza perfectly, practically in unison. It's apparent from this piece that Madeleine Dring must have had a great sense of humor.

Mezzo-soprano Patrizia Conte sang an excerpt from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, arranged for piano and clarinet, with confidence and a flair for the dramatic. The excerpt begins with brilliant and forceful chords in the piano and the voice enters in a highly declamatory manner. Patrizia's voice was powerful and expressive with a lovely connected range in that she makes the transition from her low, "male" voice to her high, heady voice seamlessly. Clarinetist Mokrynski negotiated beautiful passages reminiscent of Mozart's concerto for clarinet with apparent ease. The descents into the low range of the instrument and higher passage work were absolutely fluid. This opera excerpt was performed convincingly and with the utmost drama.

Cecile Chaminade's Op. 101 for solo piano entitled L'Ondine gives the piano a chance to show off its different colors. This was made more apparent by pianist Ron Levy's sensitive performance. The initial melodic gestures of the piece sound over lilting arpeggios caressing the ear in the high register of the piano. The piano writing is ever bright and impressionistic, played by Mr. Levy as if he had an entire palate of orchestral colors at his disposal. When the opening melodic figure returned, Mr. Levy's sound became even more delicate than when it first appeared. He played like flowing water as the piece ended with its final upper register passage-work.

Lyrical vocal writing which becomes very dramatic characterizes Der Abendstern, the first of the two songs composed by Fanny Mendelsshon Hensel heard on this concert (he wrote many). In these songs Ms. Conte's voice took on a more intimate character. Das Meer erglänzte weit hinaus is comprised of dance rhythms under the folk-like quality of the melodic writing. Toward the end the vocal line rises and finally settles on the word "thränen," which in German means "tears." Here the song ends abruptly.

Twenty-First Century composer Caroline Newman wrote her Fantasie for flute, clarinet and piano in the year 2006. Commissioned by the Palisades Virtuosi, this was its world premier. In Fantasie, we are taken on a journey from the dark and mysterious to a world of light. Toward the end of the piece the music becomes jubilant. Miss Newman's use of the alto flute and the bass clarinet adds a sense of foreboding to the music. Her writing for these instruments is natural and ever appropriate for the tenor of the music.

Several moments in particular spoke to me during the performance. In the beginning of the piece the alto flute and clarinet play trills before the melody enters with the clarinet. Under this melodic material, to which the flute is now added, lilts the piano in a manner truly haunting and disquieting. Images come to mind involving a forest wherein the trees block out the light, gradually receding so that the light may enter. After this movement from dark to light the music becomes ecstatic. Toward the end of the piece I noticed the continuity of the short motivic material. The piece ends with exciting descents and ascents in all the parts, beautifully negotiated by Palisades Virtuosi.

Nineteenth and Twentieth Century composer Amy Beach set three poems by Robert Browning for flute, piano and mezzo-soprano. "I send my heart up to thee!," Op. 44, No. 3 is written in the grand romantic tradition of the time. Amy Beach, herself a pianist of great note in her time, composed lush piano gestures under quite a substantial, even vocal line. This song is dramatic and provided a wonderful vehicle for demonstrating the versatile and facile Conte.

Ecstasy, Op. 19, No. 2, is striking in that a flute obbligato exists along with the vocal line. The piano part remains accompanimental throughout the song. Again, Ms. Conte was impressive with regards to her transitions from the chest voice up into the heady, higher ranges. "June" was the final song of the set and provided a nice contrast to the other two songs. The song is sprightly and bright and is suited perfectly to the text. Again, a flute obbligato is maintained along with the vocal line. The song ends dramatically.

One of the high points of this concert was for me American Lullaby written by Gladys Rich. The song is beautiful in its simplicity and was sensitively sung by Ms. Conte.

Twentieth Century composer Katherine Hoover wrote a now very famous and oft performed piece for solo flute entitled Kokopeli. The composer managed to integrate the feel of the Native American Hopi flute player who, as legend has it, led the migration of his people with his flute playing. The work is successful as the music is highly evocative of what this Native American music might have sounded like. Flutist Swinchoski played hauntingly with a far off sounding, absolutely gorgeous, rich tone. The flute part later becomes more agitated with difficult passage-work which Margaret Swinchoski executed with ease and grace.

The final piece of the concert was Libby Larsen's Barn Dances for Flute, Clarinet and Piano. There are three contrasting movements, each beautifully crafted. In the first movement, "Forward Six and Fall Back Eight," the piano is not merely accompanimental; it is integrated into the texture along with the flute and clarinet parts. This music is exciting and very much like a hoedown in that the gigue-like dance rhythms propel the motion of the piece with their momentum. In the second movement, "Divide the Ring," the composer makes a tribute to Gene Autry with a quote from one of his songs. The movement is atmospheric, as I imagined I was taken into the parlor of an old-time saloon. The music is purposely schmaltzy and playful supplying surprise after surprise. Next we heard the movement entitled "Varsouvianna." This is a slow, simple and dreamy waltz. The clarinet and then flute played angular melodic lines which are lovely and always maintain a sense of simplicity. Finally, we heard "The Rattlesnake Twist" which is more of a *tarantella with jazz rhythms. The opening tritone *flutter-tongue in the flute is creepily maniacal. The tarantella itself is fiery and fast, making me think of swarming insects. The fabulous playing of Palisades Virtuosi brought many images like these to mind.

The Palisades Virtuosi players are a gracious bunch who made the concert even more enjoyable than usual. They ended with a encore of Claire Grundman's Waltz and Interlude which was lovely and light and an entirely appropriate close to an inspiring evening.



Keeping the "modern" in modern music
( a series)



Saturday, June 11, 2005
By John Lampkin
"Although he is still alive, John Lampkin is finding modest success as anaward-winnng composer of chamber music." So says Mr. Lampkin. Google his name and a far more expansive view of his award-winning career will berevealed.-Ed.
Palisades Virtuosi: Margaret Swinchoski (flute), Donald Mochrynski (clarinet), Ronald Levy (piano). Unitarian Society, Ridgewood.… with guests Elaine Douvas (oboe), Daniel Shelly (bassoon), and Scott Brubaker (horn). Alexander von Kreisler: Concertino; Dmitri Shostakovich: Two Waltzes; Paul Somers: An Arch of Miniatures; Francis Poulenc: Sextet; Ludwig Thuille: Sextet. Unitarian Society, Ridgewood.

The Palisades Virtuosi concerts are perhaps the best bargain in live chamber music in northern New Jersey, as proven once again by their most recent concert. Without a trip to New York and all the accompanying hassles, one can hear some of the best concert artists in the world perform not only classical chestnuts but premieres of stimulating new works by contemporary composers in the acoustically warm and inviting venue of the Ridgewood Unitarian Society building.

Saturday's concert was an "extra-vaganza" which augmented the core trio with three members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra to perform two standards of the chamber literature by Francis Poulenc and Ludwig Thuille. What a happy idea! The Poulenc Sextet was a highlight, bristling and bustling and bursting with energy, and at turns singing with all the poetic lyricism that Poulenc himself could have asked for. With a tip of the hat to Stravinsky, Poulenc created a 20th century masterpiece, which is not an easy work. But Scott Brubaker on horn, Elaine Douvas on oboe, and Daniel Shelly on bassoon made their parts seem effortless. As the lynchpin of the ensemble, Mr. Levy is the consummate chamber pianist, ever sensitive to the nuances of his colleagues, yet always communicating a sense of command. Ms. Swinchoski almost dances with her flute, giving a visual dimension to her luscious sound, while Mr. Mokrynski provides marvelously clean and rich clarinet counterpoint without affect. The result is a delight to both eye and ear.

Since there is little in the traditional repertoire for piano, flute and clarinet, the Palisades Virtuosi have commissioned contemporary composers to write for them, and are committed to performing a new work on each program. The other highlight then, was the premiere of An Arch of Miniatures by Paul Somers, who is the director of the Classical New Jersey Society. The compositional challenge of writing a collection of short movements is to create a unified work that has a sense of dramatic development and climax. In this he succeeded, both in the contour of each individual movement and the overall shape of the work as a whole. In contrast to the rest of the evening's program, his Arch was a linear exploration and journey with the piano treated more as a consistent contrapuntal texture than as a harmonic underpinning.

After intermission, the Thuille Sextet, with its Brahmsian overtones, satisfied all possible audience cravings for lush romanticism. Thus, the Palisades Virtuosi gave everything a concert-goer could wish for: an evening of emotionally satisfying and intellectually stimulating repertoire, extraordinarily well-played. Having attended all of their programs this season, I can say that they always do.




Keeping the "modern" in modern music

Saturday, April 22, 2005
By Paul M. Somers


Palisades Virtuosi: Margaret Swinchoski (flute), Donald Mochrynski (clarinet), Ronald Levy (piano). Unitarian Society, Ridgewood.... guests: Linda Sweetman-Waters (piano), Rae Gabrielle de la Crétaz (soprano).

It was only a bit over a month later that PV fans reunited in the Ridgewood Unitarian Society for a concert which in large part memorialized local composer Richard Lane (1933-2004) who had passed away last fall. He had been commissioned to compose a work for the PV, but they had not seen it, or even known that it existed yet, when he died. The completed work was found among his papers, so it received its premiere.

His Trio in two movements - one senses that a third was intended - exemplifies his esthetic. The first movement, though it moves right along, is gracious, even gentle, a description which those who had been close to Mr. Lane told me fit him. And even more revealing of the composer's essential striving for beauty is the slow second movement. Long lines intertwine touchingly without becoming saccharine. It was this movement which made a musical epitaph, a benediction and valediction in one. Other works of his were performed. Soprano Rae Gabrielle de la Crétaz, not originally announced as a soloist, sang Lullaby, a shapely *vocalise which was quite *chromatic. The performance was well-calculated yet sounded as free as if improvised.

The elegiac mood was continued as Margaret Swinchoski played the Adagio from Lane's Flute Concerto (2003). At the conclusion she motioned to pianist Ron Levy, then to the large photograph of Richard Lane which sat on an easel to audience right during the whole concert.

What had been lacking in the Lane memorial was any sense of the wit for which he was famous. Finally Mr. Levy and Linda Sweetman-Waters sat down at their respective pianos and produced "Carolina" Variations - the tune in question being Carolina Moon (words and music by Benny Davis and Joe Burke), as in "Carolina moon keep shinin'," etc. With its opening quote of (what else?) Claire d'lune the piece became an invitation to find just about every other known moon or Carolina reference lane could slip in (I could swear I heard a touch of "Song to the Moon" from Dvorák's Rusalka, and everyone heard Carolina in the Mornin'). Along with all those clever quotes, it was also an active and clever set of variations.

Both Ms. Swinchoski and Ms. Sweetman-Waters mentioned to the audience that they were wearing the same dresses that each wore for the premieres of their respective concerti composed for them by Lane.

I did not know Mr. Lane, but his music and the love with which his friends played it opened a door to his spirit for this stranger.

The spirit of new music was enhanced by Matthew Baier's arrangement of his Syzygy for the PV. It is, strictly speaking, a *twelve-tone work, but Baier finds a different palette within that discipline. This sounds more like Hindemith than anything from the *Second Viennese School. The secret is that the elements with which the composer grapples are recognizable to the ear, not just the eye. When he becomes fugal, the music can be followed in that way. It was this work which, a few issues ago, I mentioned had been the one to which the inexperienced music appreciation student was immediately drawn. So was I.

The set of Three Nocturnes included elements of interest for each. Elgar's Chanson de nuit for clarinet (originally violin) and piano was gorgeously phrased by both Donald Mochrynski and Levy. It turns out this the composer felt it was the most beautiful of his works.

Chopin's C-sharp minor Nocturne, op. 27, no. 1 is, of course, one of his most exotic works. The ambivalence between minor and major and the odd harmonies within the equally odd scales make this an otherworldly nightscape. Levy mentioned to the audience that there is a *quote from Liszt's E-flat Piano Concerto within the music.

The most unusual work of the evening was Maria Grenfell's On a moonlit night a recluse plays his pale white ch'in. This latter is a Tasmanian aboriginal flute. Ms. Grenfell is a New Zealand native. Thought the work is written for the basic PV configuration using alto flute, Levy opened the piece by playing the rain stick. The low sonorities of the wind parts imparted an expressive earthy quality to the nocturnal picture. But it was the high piano chords which painted most effectively the nighttime picture of stars in a high sky and of sparks rising from a small fire.

The theme of "A Starry Night" was bookended by "Mercury" and "Jupiter" from Holst's The Planets. Had these been real arrangements in which the flute and clarinet covered the parts of other prominent instruments, perhaps hinting at those "foreign" colorations, then they might have been more spectacular. As it was, Swinchoski and Mochrynski played the flute and clarinet orchestral parts while Levy played everything else. While it turned out to be a showpiece for the pianist, it was not all that satisfying as an arrangement.




Keeping the "modern" in modern music-
Finding the American in its commissions

Saturday, March 12, 2005
By Paul M. Somers

Palisades Virtuosi: Margaret Swinchoski (flute), Donald Mochrynski (clarinet), Ronald Levy (piano). Unitarian Society, Ridgewood.
...with guests: Bob McGrath (narrator/tenor), Laura Hamilton (violin), Justin Kagan (cello), Juliette Bowen (signer). Prokoviev: "Triumphal March from Peter and the Wolf; Seymour Barab: The Sea Princess (premiere); Martinu: Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano; Stravinsky: L'histoire du soldat (concert version); Tower: Petroushskates (1980).

The Palisades Virtuosi (PV) is an ensemble which does what this writer profoundly intends should happen everywhere: it cares deeply about connecting living composers with living audiences. It plays well-known music, too, but the heart of every one of its concerts is the premiere of a commissioned work. Over the past few years since the first time I heard them I can recollect no concert which was without a premiere. What a record!

And what a relief it is for the audience to be treated as a thinking entity which not only can but will talk about the music at each post-concert reception. This being New Jersey, a new work always draws other composers in support of their colleague, but the regular concert-goers are just as involved in sharing opinions and asking questions. The general topics of conversation are not mostly trivial, but even when lighthearted they have spun off from the topic of the evning: provocative music.

The PV always invites at least one guest artist to join them. To be sure, the combination of flute, clarinet, and piano is not filled to overflowing with literature, but there is always about one of their concerts the idea of introducing their musical friends to the audience. And what friends they are: Bob McGrath (labeled as a "celebrated musical personality", but better known as a mainstay of Sesame Street), violinist Laura Hamilton, oboist Elaine Douvas, bassoonist Daniel Shelly, and hornist Scott Brubaker (all with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and most if not all residents of Ridgewood or its neighbors), and other folks of that calibre.

Is it any wonder, then, that on March 12 a very goodly audience assembled to hear the premiere of Seymour Barab's The Sea Princess, based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid? The music is often close to modern musical theater lyricism, but it lacks the artificial slickness one finds in most Broadway fare. This proved to be of much more substance.

The Andersen bicentennial inspired Barab himself to pull the author's story into the present in its humor (a character named the Who-What-Why Witch; or a sign reading "No smoking under sea; or a school called Voodoo U.), yet keeping the færie quality of the original. Barab supported his rewriting of the story with music which painted words even while producing long melodic lines. The narrator and tenor was McGrath, who, in spite of the usual lack of rehearsal time, pulled it off with his consistently high professionalism.

The basic trio of flutist Margaret Swinchoski, clarinetist Donald Mochrynski, and pianist Ron Levy, having been presented with a rich score at least three times longer than they had expected, obviously dug into the music with relish. Easy to understand though it may be, Barab's music is anything but simplistic. All four performers were constantly making eye contact to create tight ensemble, and the instrumental writing certainly had its well met challenges.

At the conclusion Mr. Barab came forward, evidently quite pleased, while the audience applauded long and loud. His powers have certainly not slackened at age 84!

Another great PV touch was the presence of signer Juliette Bowen. I for one could barely take my eyes off her elegant and expressive signing. It barely mattered if there were any hearing impared people present; strictly at the level of interpretive dance her presence was evocative.

Petroushskates (1980) by Joan Tower, a younger composer than Mr. Barab, is a fun piece which was used as the concert closer. It used all the instrumentalists of the evening including Ms. Hamilton and cellist Justin Kagan as guests. Inspired as it is by pairs figure skating, it was a natural for Ms. Swinchosky, who is a very committed amateur skater. She was also committed to the difficult and zippy flute part, which she handled with great flair. The "Petrouch" part of the title becomes apparent in quotes from Stravinsky's Petrouchka, most notably from the "Shrovetide Fair" section. The references to pairs skating show up in 2 woodwinds, 2 strings, 2 hands on a piano, at least according to Swinchoski.

Other works on the program included a trimmed down version of Stravinsky's L'histoire du soldat in which it was revealed just why Hamilton is a concertmaster of the Met Orchestra, a reading with the basic trio of the "Triumphal March" which closes Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, and a brilliant performance by Swinchoski, Kagan, and Levy of Martinu's Trio for flute, cello, and piano. This latter work proved to be by turns cheerful and disturbing, to the extent that neither mood prevailed.



Looking for new paths - Virtuosity in new contexts

Saturday, January 17, 2004
By Paul M. Somers

 
Palisades Virtuosi: Margaret Swinchoski (flute), Donald Mokrynski (clarinet), Ron Levy (piano), with Matt Sullivan (oboe), Bob McGrath (narrator), Ken Cro-Ken (videographer). Bloch: Concertino for Flute, Clarinet, and Piano; Godfrey Schroth: Variations on an Appalachian Carol premiere); Milhaud: Sonata for flute, oboe, clarinet, and piano (1918); Arnold: Divertimento (1952); Sullivan: Oh Boy (a kaleidoscopic adventure for acoustic oboe), and Intricate Simplicity (interpolations on Simple Gifts for electric oboe); Saint-Saëns: Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs as music for Andersen's The Ugly Duckling. Unitarian Society, Ridgewood.

A group which recently strode into New Jersey's active music scene is the Palisades Virtuosi. In addition to the simple fact that they live up to their name and make no bones about it, they are actively commissioning new works and exploring different kinds of concerts.

This one was a case in point. It contained the world premiere of Variations on an Appalachian Carol (I wonder as I wander) by New Jersey composer Godfrey Schroth. The concert also included two works for unaccompanied oboe by guest artist Matt Sullivan.

Not only that, but the concert took place in the midst of a rich exhibit of art pieces by Ken Cro-Ken. There was also an attempt at enlivening Darius Milhaud's 1918 Sonata for flute, oboe, clarinet, and piano by projecting a filmed view of natural shapes during the piece.

Finally, Saint-Saëns' Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs, also using the full quartet, brought special guest Bob McGrath on to join the ensemble as a narrator. It turns out that we are approaching the bi-centennial of the birth of Hans Christian Andersen, so at Mr. Sullivan's instigation pianist Ron Levy adapted the famous tale of the Ugly Duckling, and used the Caprice as descriptive music interspersed within McGrath's reading of the story. It was quite effective, no doubt to Mr. Saint-Saëns' great surprise had he been alive to hear it.

Other music was by Ernest Bloch and Malcolm Arnold.

Let's put aside any doubts as to the performances themselves. These three players and their guest oboist are first-rate musicians who never had one moment of insecurity or dull playing. The concert was filled with vital performances. And McGrath was, as one would expect, marvelous as the narrator. His good humor and professionalism came through as he read the story flawlessly, even though he had been given it only days before.

So with only praise due to the performers, let's look at how effective the various elements of the program were.

Mr. Schroth's music is widely varied in mood. Each of the many variations is clearly related to the modal folk-tune, but the scope of expression ranges from the mistily atmospheric to the theatrically dramatic. Even a comic waltz shows up. The melancholy melody is shown in new lights, though the final variation returns to the original mood if not the full tune. It proved to be a very effective work.

Milhaud's "crunchy" Sonata, to use flutist Margaret Swinchoski's apt word for it, could be used as a study in bi-tonality, doubtless extending at times beyond the use of only two keys into more. It is not often performed (strings do tend to dominate the chamber world) so it was a great pleasure to hear how well the 86-year-old work holds up. It is anything but dated, no doubt because Milhaud had great craft and knew how to write exciting music. The audience favorites were the final two movements. "Emporté" proved to be raucous fun, like an already crazy festival running completely amok. It is followed by "Douloureux". This is Ivesian in its inevitable building and multiple keys and levels of meanings. Though we usually associate Milhaud with Brazilian or French dances or wit, this final movement is quite serious and extremely evocative of sadness and mystery.

Ken Cro-Ken's film, which was played during the Milhaud work, was fascinating on its own, but was not designed to relate to the music except by chance. Had the music been by an *aleatoric composer, say an event by Barney Childs, this kind of thing might have worked. But when the score is so well crafted and intentional as Milhaud's, any additional elements must be just as tightly constructed to relate exactly to the music if the multimedia event is to have its full effect. It must be as well-though-out as fine choreography. So the film ended up being a distraction rather than an aid. Consistently steady camera work was not always achieved and would be an asset in any circumstance.

Cro-Ken's studio work is skilled. It was far more generally effective to have his artwork hung around the performing space setting a general mood, than to have the film. Yet the film was an experiment which had its moments, randomly serendipitous though they were.

Matt Sullivan's Oh Boy! - a kaleidoscopic adventure for acoustic oboe was framed by very effective multiphonics. Between these striking utterances the music was very fast *minimalism in which Sullivan executed *circular breathing. This is rather unusual for oboists. He did have to grab a few breaths, and he commented later that he's getting too old to sustain the concentrated effort demanded by that technique.

His other piece, Intricate Simplicity - interpolations on Simple Gifts for electric oboe, used a pedal to work a *sequencer. Sullivan's ability to electronically overlap sequences effectively evoked great space - for this listener a reminder of red rock cañons in the desert southwest, a far cry from the Shaker communities of the northeast where the tune was born. It was well-received, even garnering one cheer.

Malcolm Arnold's ever-so-British Divertimento, presented with no extra musical trappings, contains the sense of humor that would eventually find him engaged in creating some of Gerard Hoffnung's funniest send-ups for his 1950s fun-with-music festivals, hilarious send-ups of the ever-so-serious festivals which abound. Marked generally by an almost cartoon sensibility not unlike his American contemporary Paul Bowles, my favorite from Arnold was the "Maestros". Had it been written for brass it would have been legitimately regal; but of course it is for woodwinds, which makes it wittily pretentious. The *coda provided some of the most technically demanding work of the evening. But Arnold is not all goofiness: the Andantino is morose and obsessive with a two-note *ostinato in the clarinet bass line; and the final "Piacevole" is pastorale in mood, a calm afterward to the previous goings on.

The concert began with Mr. Bloch's {Concertino, an earnest and lyric work. Ron Levy's piano part was *filled with impeccably executed ink in the Allegro *fugue. The *subject is wonderfully disjunctive, and the piece concludes with a sudden jaunty *coda worthy of Ibert.

The concert was fascinating in its variety. And of course there were the players living up to the name they chose: the Palisades Virtuosi with emphasis on the latter.

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