If there is any instrumental combination more appropriate to Impressionistic music than flute and harp, I don’t know what it is. Music lovers should be grateful to the Portland Chamber Music Festival for providing three beautiful examples Thursday night at Hannaford Hall of USM’s Abromson Community Education Center.

The first work of the evening was “Two Interludes” by French composer Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) played by Elizabeth Mann, flute, Miranda Cuckson, violin, and Bridget Kibbey, harp.

This is incidental music, first transcribed for flute, violin and harpsichord, but it seems to me to work much better with the harp. In their Spanish influences, the “Interludes” remind one of Ibert’s contemporary, Federico Mompou, another composer of Spanish extraction working in Paris. Both combine an Impressionistic style with more classical material.

The second work with Impressionist influences was the flute and harp duet “Whistlesparks” (2006) by Maine composer Daniel Sonenberg. Sonenberg has inserted some “aggressive and muscular” interludes in the piece, including one-note trills, some squeaks and a trianglelike sound that seems to appear out of nowhere, but the basic instrumental combination’s atmospheric influence wins out in the end.

Mann and Kibbey gave it a reading that earned a standing ovation from the composer.

Maurice Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and String Quartet, in which Mann and Kibbey were joined by Jo-Ann Sternberg, clarinet, Jennifer Elowitch, violin, Sunghae Anna Lin, violin, Carol Rodland, viola, and Claire Bryant, cello, is one of those compositions of ultimate genius that stands all by itself in the repertoire — in melody, form, unusual combinations of timbres and virtuoso writing for the harp.

Everything worked flawlessly in this performance, generating as many smiles among the musicians as in the audience, transported to a land of Greek mythology as imagined by Pierre Louys.

Following intermission, Impressionism gave way to Romanticism, in an appropriate rendition of Schuman’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major (Op. 47) with violinist Lin, Dena Levine, piano, Marc Johnson, cello, and Jonathan Vinocour, viola.

The slow movement, with its melodic waltz followed by twinkling steps, is such a Romantic icon that it was probably imitated by Richard Strauss in “Der Rosenkavalier,” while the light and lively scherzo could have given Mendelssohn ideas.

The festival continues today, Aug. 19 and Aug. 21.


Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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