August 18, 2013

Review: Uneven evening for Portland Chamber Music Festival

An artfully played Samuel Barber piece, 'Summer Music for Woodwind Quintet,' is followed by performances with less luster.

By Christopher Hyde

This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. 8/17/2013 to correct spelling of two names


WHAT: Portland Chamber Music Festival

WHERE: Abromson Community Education Center, USM Portland

WHEN: Aug. 15

PORTLAND - The Portland Chamber Music Festival's Thursday night concert at the University of Southern Maine started off with a fine rendition of Samuel Barber's "Summer Music for Woodwind Quintet."

Known as one of the finest woodwind quintets in the repertoire, it was artfully played by Elizabeth Mann on flute, Carl Oswald on oboe, Todd Palmer on clarinet, Adrian Morejon on bassoon and Patrick Pridemore on French horn.

It conjured up the feeling of a summer afternoon, with the exuberant counterpoint and virtuoso solo parts set against a darker background of two-note dying falls and sustained notes by the oboe, indicating the approach of evening.

"Summer Music" shows the influence of Stravinsky but has Barber's characteristic voice, alternating between depictions of languid dog days and raucous children on the grass, and ending with a flock of birds taking flight.

It was followed by "Circus Maximus for Piano Trio" by PCMF composer-in-residence Laurie San Martin, played by the Hikari Trio of Jennifer Elowitch on violin, Elizabeth Anderson on cello and Yuri Funahashi on piano.

I am sure this work would repay repeated hearings, but given the title, I found it lacking in focus. There were some nice touches, such as lengthy song lines over a piano trill and unusual repeated note passages.

San Martin said in her opening remarks that she wanted to portray the "dark side" of the circus, but there was little evidence of that.

Interesting from an augenmusik (eye music) point of view was the waltz section of "Circus Maximus," which made fragments coalesce, but it was hard to follow on first hearing.

However, the performance was all that the composer could have wished for, with a most impressive piano part by Funahashi.

Would that the same could be said for the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34, which turned out to be a reprise of his youthful piano sonata in the same key. The strings were often so weak that only the (glorious) piano part could be heard.

Hanna Renedo, the PCMF's 2013 Young Artist Apprentice, played second violin on the Brahms, and got through it without a wrong note. That was a considerable feat in itself, but one could have wished for a less pained expression of total concentration. She was best in the final Allegro non troppo, which is so fast and furious that everyone has to let themselves go.

The final concert of the festival will be at 8 p.m. Saturday, and will feature the music of Mozart, Thomas Ades and Louis Spohr. Visit for ticket information. 

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:


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