I love wind instruments, and it has been rare to hear them take the lead in a Big Island concert. It was, therefore, a treat to have the clarinet and the horn featured in the Camarata RCO’s performance. The Camarata, or small chamber orchestra, was formed by members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from the Netherlands, which is considered one of the world’s best. From hearing these six musicians – piano, clarinet, horn, violin, viola, and cello – it was evident that that reputation is well deserved. Not content with just being in the orchestra, members of the Camarata formed this group to perform chamber music as well. Because they use different combinations of instruments and different numbers of players depending on the piece of music, this diversity made each piece in their program fresh.
They began with Mozart’s trio for clarinet, viola and piano in E flat major. The clarinet is a relative newcomer to the musical scene; it was not invented until around 1700 which is why we don’t hear it in Baroque-era music. Mozart first heard it played in the 1760’s, and also became friends with Anton Stadler, the first clarinet virtuoso. Mozart fell in love with the instrument’s tone and its range, and wrote several works for Stadler. If it wasn’t for that dynamic duo that popularized the instrument, the clarinet might not have achieved its prominent place in orchestras and the classical repertoire that it enjoys today.
The Camerata’s performance was refreshingly crisp and clean. The sweet first Andante movement showcases the middle ranges of the viola and clarinet; nothing piercing or rumbling here! The Menuetto and Trio increase in complexity, with the clarinet playing a short chromatic motif, and the viola playing triplets; the 2 against 3 rhythm varies the texture. The final Rondeaux movement, like the other 2 movements, is not too fast; unlike many pieces, there is not a great contrast in tempo between the movements. The piano part, written to show off the fleet fingers of Mozart’s pupil for whom he wrote the trio, requires a lightness of touch to maintain the gentle disposition of the whole piece.
The second selection was Brahms trio for horn, violin and piano, Opus 40. In contrast to the Mozart, this trio is somber in mood. It was written on the occasion of the death of Brahms’ mother, and it reflects various aspects of grief. It is not uniformly sad, with a major section perhaps referring to good memories, and the Finale ending on a happy note, with resolution for the person suffering loss.
The horn is notoriously difficult to play, and Katy Wooley was a marvel. To prevent notes from “cracking,” you must have absolute control of your mouth and of the flow of air that you are pushing through thirty feet of tubing. For both the clarinet and horn, since they do not have vibrato as a technique, using changes in dynamics are more critical to increase expressiveness than in other instruments. Given that the horn was invented to blast, playing softly without losing the note, or moving back and forth from loud to soft without going sharp or flat is a feat that Ms. Wooley managed without effort. And, she did this all while standing up holding the heavy instrument. Playing the horn requires a lot more muscle than just in the mouth! While focusing on the horn, I do not mean to detract from the violin or piano, who carried their parts with equal skill and feeling.
From the 18 century Mozart to the 19th century Brahms, the third and last selection in the program was a sextet for all of the instruments by Hungarian Ernst von Dohnanyi. While he is a 20th-century composer, his music is in the neo-romantic tradition. From the opening notes of the first movement, the Appassionata, it sounded like a soundtrack for an adventure movie with many action scenes in succession. It has dramatic flair, rapid runs by the piano beneath more sustained melody, unexpected transitions between major and minor chords within a single phrase. The second movement could be a funeral march with the repetitive drumbeat rhythm; the third features the clarinet in a lovely melody. And the final movement is almost jazzy with its syncopated rhythm. It’s playful – at one point a waltz breaks out!
The program consisted of three gorgeous jewels (and a bonus short encore by Debussy): clear, clean, colorful, well-polished and multi-faceted. We left amazed and energized by the fine musicianship of the Camarata RCO.
Meizhu Lui didn’t know there was any other kind of music except classical until she hit junior high! Piano and flute have been her own instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.
Photos: Steve Roby