The second concert in the chamber music series of the Portland String Quartet took place at Woodfords

Congregational Church in Portland on the 11th and featured the group known as Venti Cordi. (The term means winds and strings.) Their programs have always presented compositions that because of their unusual pairing of instruments are rarely performed. This program was no different in that regard.

The concert featured music by Peter Schickele (yes, that one), Bill Matthews, Robert Kahn, Bohuslav Martinu and Johann Christian Bach. The guiding lights of Venti Cordi are Dean Stein (violin) and Kathleen McNerney, oboe. The former is also the first violinist of the Portland String Quartet and like Ms. McNerney is also on the faculty of Bowdoin and Bates College. Joining them for this program were: Antonina Styczen, flute; Ashima Scripp, cello; Chiharu Naruse, piano; and last but surely not least Julia Adams, violist of the Portland String Quartet. All of these performers have substantial musical pedigrees and all of them more than lived up to their academic and musical backgrounds.

The program began with “Dream Dances for Flute, Oboe and Cello,” composed by Peter Schickele in 1988. That Mr. Schickele is and will be remembered for the numerous musical satire and comedic works is a certainty. What is not widely known is that he started out as a serious composer and even taught composition at the prestigious Julliard School of music. The five dances in this group are all charming and sophisticated even though musically they impressed as not being emotionally or technically demanding. The second composition on the program featured the world premiere of a work entitled “Venti Cordi for Oboe and Violin” by Bill Matthews. Mr. Matthews recently retired from Bates College having taught composition there for many years. The work is contrapuntal in nature and technically brilliant. The three pieces in the group are titled: Ornitholody, Promenade and Mimi’s Song.

The work received a first class reading by two very gifted performers. Mr. Stein, it seems to me can do just about anything that anyone can ask a violinist to do and do so very musically. His colleague, Ms. McNerney has a beautiful, ideal tone and would be welcome as a first oboe is any major symphony orchestra. The closing work prior to intermission featured a work by Robert Kahn, (1865-1951) “Serenade in F Minor for Oboe, Cello and Piano,” composed in 1923. This expressive and late romantic work is not often performed for a variety of reasons. First of all while Mr. Kahn was a distinguished composer in his native Germany, he had to flee that country in 1934 and lived the balance of his life in relative obscurity in England. This Serenade showed off his melodic gifts as well as the virtuoso nature of his writing for all of the instruments, especially the piano. Ms. Scripp’s rendition of the cello part showed a rich, full bodied tone and Ms. Naruse demonstrated a brilliant technique traversing a brilliant piano part.

Following intermission the most demanding work was performed, the “Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano,” composed in 1936 by Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959). Mr. Martinu was one of the world’s major composers of the first half of the 20th century. The piece is in four movements and has some significant material that musicians will recognize including the motto theme of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. There was a cadenza for the flutist in the 3rd movement which Ms. Stcyczen handled with ease. Her tone and technique impressed throughout. As for Stein and McNerney, they brought out all that Martinu put in and did so with distinction. Ms. Naruse displayed a flawless technique and superb musicianship in this work. This composition only underlined the fact that Martinu’s music needs to be more frequently performed.

The closing work of the program, the “Quintet in D Major for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Viola, and Cello,” by J.C. Bach, brought us back in time to the 18th century. While one could describe it as sounding like early Mozart, it would be more accurate to state that Mozart’s early music sounded like J.C. Bach (the youngest son of J.S. Bach.) This sweet and elegant piece was played only as a talented group of instrumentalists could play it and did so superbly.

— Dr. Morton Gold is a composer/conductor, retired educator and an arts reviewer for the Journal Tribune.

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