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An Eclectic Mix

2008 Sarasota Music Festival


During the first three weeks of June each year, the charming Gulf Coast city of Sarasota becomes Florida's chamber music mecca. Eighty five students from America's top conservatories join a faculty of distinguished concert artists and pedagogues for a series of masterclasses, coaching sessions and public concerts. Now under the direction of pianist-musicologist Robert Levin (professor of humanities at Harvard University), the event lives up to its billing as 'The Official Teaching and Performing Festival of the State of Florida' with an eclectic mix of standard and rarely heard repertoire in performances that often equal or surpass the work of well established chamber ensembles. A visit to the Festival's second week of concerts proved invigorating and inspiring.

A late afternoon concert on 12 June 2008 in the intimate Holley Hall at Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center (home of Sarasota's Florida West Coast Symphony) was capped by a masterful reading of Beethoven's valedictory keyboard sonata (No 32 in C minor, Op 11) by Claude Frank. A pupil of Artur Schnabel, perhaps the greatest Beethoven interpreter of the 20th century, Frank is a pianistic patrician. He imbued the opening Maestoso -- Allegro con brio with fleet fingered, high strung drama. By contrast Frank captured the long limbed, soaring melodic line of the concluding Arietta -- Adagio molto semplice e cantabile with unhurried grace. A faculty member at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute and the Yale School of Music, Frank gave a vivid demonstration of deeply probing artistry.

Earlier Rameau's Troisieme Concert in A Major from Pièces de clavecin en concert proved a charming divertissement of wry Baroque dance rhythms, especially when played with such captivating brio by flutist Carol Wincenc, a paragon of agile, stately musicianship and shimmering tonal sonorities. She received solid support from double-bassist Timothy Cobb (a first chair player in New York's Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) and free spirited harpsichordist Jonathan Spivey. Surges of romantic impetuosity abound in Schumann's Marchenbilder ('Scenes from Fairyland'). In the concluding Langsam movement, a melody of sublime transcendence brings the solo viola to new heights. (Schumann was one of the first composers to write a solo work for that instrument.) Violist James Dunham (a former member of the Cleveland Quartet) gave an expressive but small scaled performance. Pianist Jean Schneider provided the impassioned, big boned playing that is quintessentially Schumann.

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Copyright © 19 June 2008 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA


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