Ethos Percussion Group


Pianist Penelope Crawford & Soprano Martha Guth in Concert
F. Ludwig Diehn Concert Series
Chandler Recital Hall, March 21, 2016
Review by John Campbell

There were four stars in this recital, titled “Liebeslieder of Mozart and Schubert,” given in conjunction with the 29th Annual Harold Protsman Classical Period Piano Competition. Soprano Martha Guth sang songs by Mozart (5) and Schubert (9), accompanied by Penelope Crawford on two reproduction Viennese-style fortepianos, courtesy of Vernon McCart of Norfolk. A standard piano has a cast iron frame and a seven and one-half octave keyboard. The c.1785 original Louis Dulcken fortepiano reproduction has five octaves (FF-g’’’) and the Conrad Graf c.1830 has six and one-half octaves (CC-g’’’’). The originals can be found at the Smithsonian Institution.

The performers were friendly and relaxed—their being on stage was no barrier for the music that they wished to share. For the opening Mozart songs the five-octave piano is period-perfect. An Chloë, KV 524, set by W.A. Mozart (1756-1791) tells of a love of a lifetime. Abendempfindung, KV 523 (Evening Thoughts) is a long song with several verses of a sentimental message: the beauty of sunset reminds one of the brevity of life. A single tear from you will be a jewel in my crown! Coordinating the period-piano sound with voice made these songs appealing in a new way. Komm, liebe Zither, (Come dear zither) KV 351, was my favorite, with a happy tune in the zither-like piano asking the instrument to tell her of his love because he cannot yet do it himself. Impetuous action in Als Luisa die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte, KV 520 (When Louise burned the letters of her unfaithful lover), concludes the emotional attachment by destroying this reminder of a spent passion. I realized that Mozart’s emotionally understated music predates the Romantic composers, though vocally Ms. Guth gave an emotionally powerful performance.

Ms. Crawford on solo piano gave us Twelve Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman,” KV 265, the well known tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Though Mozart composed variations throughout his life, the degree of virtuosity here rises to a new level. There ware no pedals on the piano, only knee levers. The sound produced by leather-covered hammers and light action displayed Ms. Crawford’s agile playing. The swift, first variation was followed by others, some lilting, others grand or prissy, with crossed hands, showy, spacey, double time, slow, triple-time, deliberate and pyrotechnic by turn.

Next we turned to Schubert, the great cornerstone of German lieder. Ms. Crawford moved to the c. 1830 Conrad Graf fortepiano and Ms. Guth sang Franz Peter Schubert's (1797-1828) Ellens gesang I, II, III. The text is a German translation from Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake. Sung in a commanding voice with high drama, Raste Krieger (Soldier’s Rest), D. 837, is a lengthy story of a woman on a barge who comes to claim the soldier and give him rest. The second song Jäger ruhe von der Jagd (Huntsman rest! Thy chase is done) D. 838, is a soothing lullaby beautifully sung and accompanied by the gentler sound of a period instrument. The Lady of the Lake set closed with Schubert's famous Ave Maria, D.839. Ms. Guth’s tone was smooth and lovely with urgency in the line pleading “Oh Mother,hear a suppliant child!”

After intermission, alternating with songs, we heard two solo piano impromptus. In No. 1 in C minor, Op.90 (D. 899), the lambent, pianissimo melody, at first accompanied, is soon harmonized in a march-like section. Both pieces are of considerable length of well thought-out expression bearing little resemblance to the improvised impromptus of later composers. Etude-like in feeling, Impromptu No. 3 in G Major, Op. 90, was more ardent. The deep, bass notes added a dimension of gravitas to the cadence of a lovely melody straight from Beethoven’s Pathétique piano sonata.

Between the two, solo piano pieces came Suleika I & II, D. 720/1 & D. 717 (text by Marianne von Willemer, originally published by Goethe as his own). Schubert thought he was setting love poems by Goethe that use images of nature. The second has an especially light-hearted tune as the words ask that the west wind carry a message of her joy in the love she feels for him.

In the last set of Schubert songs, as the song ended I was puzzled about what the composer was telling me. It seems that I am not alone—Carole Kimball devotes an entire page in her book, Song, to Die junge Nonne, D. 828 (The Young Nun, 1824-25). The first stanza describes the external storm: wind, thunder, clattering rafters and lightning, all with the music conveying the frightening intensity. Schubert underlines the agitation of the young novice with masterful melodic, rhythmic patterns: a tremolo in the right hand with the melodic motive in the bass punctuated by the ringing of the church bell. That the melodic material alternates between voice and piano is also unsettling. In the second stanza the novice compares this storm to the one that raged inside her. In the third she discards the comparison and affirms her faith and inner peace. In the fourth she calls upon the savior to come take His bride. Her fervor reaches ecstatic heights in a final “Alleluia!” Obviously both violence and calm coexist in the nun’s innermost thoughts. Schubert gives us the Romantic grandeur of the storm and Ms. Muth delivered this love of a different kind with intensity, or was this indeed a hymn to the storm?

This most insightful program closed with Litanei aus Fest Allerseelen, D. 343 (Rest in peace all souls). The singer floated notes so sweetly, building to a climax that ended on a high point, touching on such loveliness that no encore was needed.

Ethos Percussion Group
Chandler Recital Hall, September 28, 2016
Review by John Campbell

As part of the F. Ludwig Diehn Concert Series, the four men of the Ethos Percussion Group offered an eclectic program of eight individual pieces. The group brought a self-confident air, a laid-back sense of fun and a desire to share their enthusiasm for the music they played. The mostly student audience were engaged from the start.

The Guiros Talk by Dafnis Prieto is a quartet for gourds where the players used scrapers on the gourds' ridges and sound holes. Prieto took traditional rhythms from Cuba and Latin America as a point of departure but his music soon became totally unpredictable—distorted rhythms inspired by Indian theory—and we were off on our world-wide percussion journey.

Ethos member Yousif Sheronick arranged West Naima (Naima's Hip) by Hossam Ramzy, an Egyptian tabla virtuoso. Using drums from a variety of cultures they played Middle Eastern rhythms that were loud to soft, fast and slow and deliberately accelerated to a fiery ending.

Composer Susie Ibarra says her piece These Trees that Speak "is inspired by my ongoing interest in folkloric animism and trance music and also by visuals of Akira Kurosawa's [film] Dreams...and the nature of trees' unspoken lives.” A sound loop created by playing a xylophone into an iPhone was accompanied by the quartet with Michael Lipsey on marimba and a recorded water flow with a steady heart-beat created a naturalistic soundscape with subtle drum enhancements and clear bell tones.

Silent pauses added to the impact of the Indonesian gamelan gandrung-inspired Gandrung (2002) by Bill Alves. The very fast upper shimmering notes were created by three players on a single marimba, accompanied by one on two red drums. My solar plexus resonated with the lower marimba tones.

After intermission we heard Sheronick's Duo 77 (2002), originally written for two frame drums. This version was arranged with the help of the ensemble members and is based on South Indian rhythmic practices adding on Asian bowls, bongos and a tiny electric keyboard with bell sounds produced with finger pads tapping to create a deep sound. It was exhilarating!

All four Ethos players were seated on the floor surrounded by boomwackers, tambourines, battery-powered latte frothers and a toy glockenspiel for Ziggurat (interior) by John Hollenbeck. The composer imagined the sounds of the workers that built the temple that remains today. With a child-like openness they explored a fantasy scenario of what the music might have been with small, detailed sounds inspired by the ziggurats of Mesopotamia.

On a visit to Vancouver, British Columbia, composer Peter Garland wrote Apple Blossom (1972) for one marimba, four players, exploring the textural potential of a single 13-note chord. From the scintillating opening the sound grows almost imperceptibly fuller and richer over ten minutes. Rapt attention offers a time for introspection/meditation, free of the usual sound around us while the peace fades away.

We think of the 17-minute closing piece, Drumming, Part I (1971) as contemporary though it is now 45 years old and composer Steve Reich (b.1936) is still working. A catalog of textures and moods, there is one basic, rhythmic pattern for all of the piece that, as Reich has written, “undergoes changes of phrase position, pitch and timbre”: A single tuned bongo gives the pattern and is soon joined by a second, tuned bongo (there are four altogether and four players, two of which join in and retreat as the piece unfolds).

Hearing Part 1 in Chandler Hall changed my experience of it mightily. The tuned hall amplified the overtones, creating a great ambience that interacted with the on-going drumming. The experience was very different than when we heard it at Harrison Opera House on April 28, 1997 when Steve Reich and Musicians (Bob Becker, Russell Hartenberger, Garry Knistad, Thad Wheeler) performed Drumming, Part I and Part II. The Electra CD E2 79170 offers all four parts of the piece in sound similar to Reich & Musicians live performance.

All of this added-up to a terrific evening of exploratory music on a rich panoply of percussion instruments by serious musicians sharing their sense of fun with a mostly student audience.

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