Norfolk Chamber Consort's 39th Season

In its 39th season, co-directors F. Gerard Errante and Allen Shaffer were each featured performers in a Norfolk Chamber Consort program. At the end of the season they turned leadership over to a new artistic director. In this, their 35th year of leading the consort, the community had a chance to celebrate all that has been achieved by them and the collaborating artists that have offered the audience fine performances in four programs each season.

The season's second program, "The Art of Transcription," featured music by J.S. Bach (1685-1707), and Bach's inspiration Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707), performed by duo harpsichordists Allen Shaffer and Thomas Marshall who call themselves Les Deux Clavešins. The third program featured F. Gerard Errante, clarinetist with his new partner, clarinetist and pianist D. Gause. They call their duo Clarion Synthesis.

Starting in the 2008-2009 season, the consort's 40th, Andrey Kasparov will become the new artistic director and there will be several new performers on the roster.

Duo Harpsichord Transcriptions Feature
Allen Shaffer and Thomas Marshall

Titled "The Art of Transcription," the second program of Norfolk Chamber Consort's 39th season took place on November 19, 2007 at Chandler Recital Hall. Transcriptions, the arrangement of musical compositions for a performing medium other than the original, are not unusual. For J.S. Bach (1685-1750) and other Baroque composers it was quite common. The practice continues today as demonstrated by the first selection on this program. The last of four suites for orchestra, BWV 1069 in D Major by Bach was heard in a 2006 transcription by Pierre Gouin for duo-harpsichords. This music is very familiar in its original string orchestral form and it was a surprise in the finer, thinner harpsichord sound. The measured tread of the great number of tinkling, tiny sounds came alive for this listener in the later dance movements: Gavottes I and II, BourrÚe and Gigue. The bass lines, that we had been encouraged to listen for in Dr. Shaffer's opening remarks, tended to fuse because of the closeness of timbre of the two instruments in this arrangement.

Bach, himself, transcribed Concerto in C minor for two harpsichords, BWV 1060 from a now lost concerto for oboe and violin (1735-40). This music is heavenly; the pacing was excellent with the strings ensemble work remarkably clean. On violins we heard Yun Zhang and Lesa Bishop; on viola, Beverly Kane Baker; on cello, Michael Daniels and on double bass, Christopher White.

After intermission we heard a transcription made by Allen Shaffer of Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) Fantasia on the Chorale Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g'mein, BuxWV 210. There was a logical flow to the music that kept the lines crisp. Two harpsichords together added a fullness of sound to this music. From the introductory remarks we learned that the duo Les Deux Clavešins, Allen Shaffer (DMA, 1970) and Tom Marshall (MM 1980) performed this piece at Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan Both performers had taken advanced degrees at U Mich. They returned to celebrate both their teacher Marilyn Mason's 60th anniversary as organ professor and Buxtehude's death 300 years ago.

The final piece was Concerto in C minor for two harpsichords and strings, BWV 1062. Bach had transcribed it from his original for two violins and strings. In the andante, second movement, the ensemble failed to create the sustained tension that can rivet my attention. The glitter in the allegro assai (third movement) soon petered out. The little violin figures that punctuate the sound did not have the needed bite and the pacing gave it a romantic feeling. The bass lines in the harpsichords were all but obscured. The modern stringed instruments overpowered the harpsichords. Perhaps if the string players were placed behind the harpsichords the balance would be more true to Baroque sound.

A recommended CD can be found on Newport Classics NC 60023 - Anthony Newman and Mary Jane Newman, harpsichords, with the Brandenburg Collegium Orchestra. From the CD notes: "Baroque counterpoint developed with a strong sense of tonal center. As the bass line began to acquire independence, the concept of the continuo developed (a cello or similar instrument to play the bass line, plus a keyboard to reinforce the bass and fill in the harmonies). That left the melody available for a solo instrument or solo group in a concerto." The CD contains Concertos BWV 1052, 1056 for solo harpsichord and BWV 1060, 1061 for two harpsichords.

Errante's Capstone Performance with Norfolk Chamber Consort

The third program featured Clarion Synthesis - F. Gerard Errante, clarinet and D. Gause, clarinet/piano. Six of the seven sets were by living composers. The program opened with Eric P. Mandat (b.1957) Ritual (2000) for two clarinets. The stage went black and when the lights came up Gerry Errante emerged from the right and Ms. Gause came in from the left, each playing continuously. They moved to center stage, crossed clarinets and then moved apart. When they come back to center stage they turned their backs to the audience and as they touched their backs together the music was most harmonious. This sort of slow dance continued throughout, choreographed as a ritual. They were very effective both musically with technical polish and visual interest.

Composer Edwin Dugger (b.1940) introduced his piece On Spring's Eve for clarinet, piano, violin and cello (2000) and told us that he composed it for his teacher Richard Kaufmann's 70th birthday. The piece is a collage of sound swatches assembled from coloristic fragments tossed out by the instruments in what seems at first to be at random. There is a nervous, rippling sound from the clarinet played by Mr. Errante, echoed in the piano by Oksana Lutsyshyn, the cello plucked by Michael Daniels punctuates the line by Yun Zhang's violin reminiscent of train wheels rolling in a hint of a Viennese waltz in triple meter. Emotionally evocative, the ensemble's work was tight, creating a spectrum of intensity, gray, serious, even torturous.

By contrast, the piece that followed, Twilight (1990) for clarinet and piano by Mark Carlson (b.1952) could have been called "Nightclub on Valentine's Day / Close Dancing." Expansive, leisurely, organic, even too pretty, this was love poetry spoken by Errante's lyrical clarinet entwined by D. Gause's feeling piano. In the selection "French Art Songs" they gave us Claude Debussy's (1862-1918) languorous Beau Soir and a fast passed Mandoline that races forward, then slows. The piano accompaniment is unchanged while the clarinet gives a very consistent sound as the voice. The sound was beautifully shaped in Francis Poulenc's (1875-1937) Bluet, Les Chemins de L'Amour, H˘tel and Voyage Ó Paris.

After intermission Judith Shatin (b.1949) introduced her composition Glyph for clarinet, string quartet and piano (1984). Ms. Shatin, a distinguished professor at the University of Virginia, adapted her piece, originally for viola, especially for Mr. Errante for this concert. In the music she captures the ephemeral quality of sound in our space/time continuum. There is an open, tentative quality in the first movement, Luminous, as if it were searching for a center. In the second movement, Flickering, I felt unsettled, insecure with the pizzicato strings. Filled with glissandos, her third movement, Ecstatic, shimmers gloriously. The final movement, Incandescent, uses a variety of colors in the clarinet to create auditory flames enriched by strings and piano.

Recorded sound begins the piece Water Voyage (2007, world premiere) by Alex Shapiro (b.1962) written for two clarinets and pre-recorded electronic sound. There was a flow of tones that carried me into a deeply relaxed state. Ms. Gause's clarinet sounds somehow oriental and percussive. There is enough variety in texture to keep the music interesting and not enough to break the mood created.

Our featured performers closed the program with a composition by Ms. Gause (b.1957), el rastro espa˝ol (the Spanish trail) playing the piano with Mr. Errante on several clarinets in this imagistic journey over an old desert commerce trail. The piece begins with Ms. Gause plucking strings inside the piano. This changes into lyrical cocktail music. On a half clarinet and a full clarinet played simultaneously we hear sound reminiscent of a didgeridoo. Later they swing out on some jazz riffs using tinkling treble contrasted with mid-keyboard notes, spinning out relaxing pleasant music.

Their encore was a duo jazz piece that uses familiar tunes in the clarinet and dulcimer-like plucked strings of the piano, moving us toward sweet dreams. The couple hugged as they took their bows. We wish them health, peace and joy in their planned life together, first in Las Vegas where she teaches, then a year in Paris. Hopefully they will choose to come and perform in Norfolk from time to time.

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