Wednesday, May 10, 2017

My own Sunday rituals

Before another week goes by, I want to mention two concerts I attended on back-to-back Sundays. On April 30, in a program at St. Asaph’s Church in Bala Cynwyd, the string quartet contingent of the Elysian Camerata introduced me to the music of Erwin Schulhoff, the Czech who died at the Wülzbourg concentration camp in 1942. (My German-language music dictionary, from 1973, does not have an entry for him. I wonder why.) Barbara Jaffe and Dana Weiderhold, violins; Louse Jaffe, viola; and Talia Schiff, cello, performed Schulhoff’s thematically rich, expressively complex String Quartet No. 2 (from 1924). The piece reminded me somewhat of Bartok, with its thick textures, aggressive rhythms, and folk touches, although, in light of the jazz variation in the second movement, no one would ever confuse the two. The performers seemed quite at home with the progressive idiom, and I was came away wanting to hear more of this neglected composer.
The Camerata’s concert began with Crisantemi and Scherzo, two pretty, early works by Puccini, and ended with Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 44 No. 1, a big, sunny piece without a shade of darkness in it. Listening to it is rather like having a Labrador retriever jump on your shoulders and lick your face.
Shannon Merlino, Silviano Reis and Chen Chen
perform Dvorak's "Dumky" Trio May 7
at the Centre Theater, Norristown. Sorry,
but the photo was tkan directly into the light. 
Then, on May 7, the Centre Theater, Norristown, presented what was, for me, a more familiar program, consisting of two flat-out masterpieces: Dvorak’s “Dumky” trio and Schubert’s F minor Fantasy four-hands. The piano in the lobby of the theater, where the first Sunday recitals are held, has a bad reputation, but the kids made the best of it, and the small audience was treated to a memorable afternoon of music. (The original plan was to move the recital up to the theater on the fourth floor, where another piano had been freshly tuned, but surprise! ― a rehearsal for the June musical, “Chicago,” had been scheduled for  the space at the same time.)
The concert began with a chestnut, the “Tzigane Tango” by Jacob Gade, played by Steve Kramer, cello, and Maria Taylor, piano, who seemed overqualified for such a little bon bon. This work is not much known today, but it was big hit in the 1930s, under the title “Jalousie,” and was recorded by the likes of Xavier Cugat. I came across it in the old radio programs of Bob and Ray, whose character Webley Webster (played by Ray Goulding) would play it on the Hammond organ. Or rather, he would try to play it. The gag was something would always go wrong, and he’d never get through it. As a consequence, I knew only the first couple of bars. That is, until this past Sunday.
I played host at the theater, serving the wine and cheese and making a few introductory remarks. My only regret is that I had to miss the two-piano program presented at the same time by Rollin Wilber and Kasia Marzec-Salwinski down at the ethical society. One has but one life to give for music.

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