Norfolk Chamber Consort Shaffer Farewell Ave Atque Vale
Chandler Hall, February 9, 2015
Review by M.D. Ridge
Ave atque vale is Latin for hail and farewell— and on Feb. 9 at ODU’s Chandler Hall, Allen Shaffer introduced the Norfolk Chamber Consort’s Ave Atque Vale: Allen Shaffer’s Farewell Concert by noting that he had been associated with the NCC for nearly 45 years. He retired from the group a year ago, but said it took a while to get his friends together.
The friends included the extraordinary clarinetist Jerry Errante, now of Las Vegas, after having taught for 30 years at Norfolk State University; he was formerly co-director of the NCC with Shaffer.
Shaffer’s friend, soprano Billye Brown Youmans, is director of music at Great Bridge Presbyterian Church in Chesapeake, Virginia.
Shaffer’s friend Tom Marshall, who has taught music at the College of William and Mary for 22 years, is the harpsichordist for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and for many years he and Shaffer toured as Les Deux Clavecins.
And composer Ed Duggan has been Shaffer’s friend since their freshmen year at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.
That’s some lineup of friends—and it took a year to get them all in the same place at the same time.
It was worth the wait.
They began with what Shaffer called three of Franz Schubert’s greatest hits: An die Musik (to Music) was a song of thanks to the “sacred art” of music. Auf dem Wasser zu singen (to be sung upon the water) evoked shimmering waves like swans. The third, Ständchen, was a serenade imploring the beloved to hear the nightingales and come to the waiting lover. Singing from memory, Youmans was expressive without “milking” the songs’ emotion, warmly bringing out the word painting of the shimmering words against Shaffer’s shimmering piano. The serenade ended on a beautiful diminuendo. It was particularly nice to hear a mature, rounded voice well under the control of the singer.
Claude Debussy’s Premiere Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano was composed for the Paris University competition. NCC’s current co-director Oksana Lutsyshyn joined Errante for flowing piano and pensive clarinet. A change of mood brought a more insistent sound, while the piano had delicate restraint. A segue into a march-like segment brought powerful piano and wild clarinet—jaunty and swaggering. Cool!
Lutsyshyn returned to play Edwin Dugger’s 2009 work, Winter Fantasy No. 2: Lento Espressivo. She played with intense, precise passion, capturing the feeling of a storm, then peacefulness, with trills, crashing chords, liquid phrases and icy punctuation. It’s a work in which the silent spaces between the phrases are as important as the notes themselves—and Lutsyshyn gave them full value, unintimidated by the presence of the composer in the audience.
Youmans, Errante and Shaffer came together for Schubert’s The Shepherd on the Rock. Youmans easily handled its precipitous leaps from high notes to low ones; Errante’s clarinet echoed the voice. (He was smiling when he wasn’t playing—I love seeing musicians enjoying one another.) The dance-y final part was just . . . marvelous.
In the second half, there were two harpsichords on the stage. The green one with gold legs and no lid was Tom Marshall’s, a replica of a 1780s original. The dark one behind it, with a peaceful landscape painted on the lid’s underside, was Shaffer’s—a replica of one built in 1721 by Nicola Blanchet.
Bach’s Toccata in D Minor (“Dorian”) was a challenge in which each instrument and player had his own section, and at other times the two instruments spoke as one. At the end, Marshall gave Shaffer two thumbs up.
Hermann Schroeder was a 20th-century German composer and church musician; the three movements of his 1967 work, Duplum, contrasted 20th century sonorities and harmonies with traditional 18th-century instruments and technique—fascinating, and apparently a high order of fun to play. The joyful third movement even had an oriental feel in places.
They closed the concert with Bach’s Concerto in C minor for two harpsichords and strings, joined by violinists Tara-Louise Montour and Gretchen Loyola, with Anastasia Migliozzi on viola and Jake Fowler on cello. The Allegro was very fresh-sounding, with nice dynamics. The Adagio movement contrasted the sounds of the harpsichords with pizzicato strings, then reversed with the violins taking long, slow notes over the cello’s pizzicato, before the lively Allegro ending.
This review was originally broadcast on WHRO 90.3 FM’s “From the other side of the Footlights.”
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