Glen Flora Ensemble parodies Haydn

By Manasi Vydyanath

It was an intriguing concert—executed with a superb sense of programmatic counterpoint. The Glen Flora Ensemble commenced with Haydn’s charming trio in D-major. At the heart of the work lies a captivating ingenuity, something that pianist Elizabeth Buccheri seemed curiously unwilling to portray. She chose to give a reading that focussed on elements of Sturm und Drang and tempestuous passion—attempting to project facets of Haydn that the piece was not really designed to represent. The result was less a depiction of Haydn’s aesthetic totality than a fragmentation of artistic vision in the performance (especially when the flautist’s interpretation seemed to prefer the enchanting over the dramatic). The composer appeared to be represented by two equally gifted advocates who had diametrically opposed opinions about how his case ought to be argued.

Florent Schmitt’s Sonatine en trio for flute, violin, and piano followed—an Impressionistic work based around depicting the sylvan wanderings of Pan. Wild, irrepressibly sweet melodies appeared seemingly out of nowhere, staying just long enough to tantalize one’s senses into expectancy, then morphing into grotesque caricatures. Scintillating motifs, underpinned by strange harmonies, twisted round and consumed themselves. A G-flat capriciously pivoted into an F-sharp and transformed a phrase in the first movement from a statement to a pun within the blink of an eye. The ensemble played this with a whimsical irony that turned it into a parody of the Haydn trio. They made the Schmitt mock the latter’s courtly graces with such a malicious virtuosity that one felt like forgiving the unkindly clever representation purely on the grounds that it was brilliantly done.

Pierrot by Thea Musgrave was possibly the highlight of the evening, a composition that represents the tribulations of its eponymous protagonist (played by the violin) while courting Columbine (clarinet). The hapless Pierrot is a sort of inversion of Don Juan, unsure where Don Juan is dashing, inept where Don Juan is devastatingly certain. Musgrave writes with a fiery evocativeness that makes reality itself pale before the immediacy and urgency of her music. A violin solo—Pierrot’s lament—opens the piece in two distinct voices, and Nisanne Howell poignantly depicts the uncertainty that is to plague Pierrot throughout his endeavors. She makes Pierrot’s serenade in the second movement a truly haunting affair.

This is thrown into sharper relief by Columbine’s chillingly flighty passagework, which clarinettist J. Lawrie Bloom brought out with a menacing skittishness. Harlequin’s entrance and his duel with Pierrot (essentially an accompanied piano cadenza, filled with pyrotechnics which Buccheri seemed to revel in) was equally stunning. Columbine’s incredibly callous betrayal of the defeated Pierrot was perhaps one of the most intense moments of the work. The final contemplation—in which the motifs of the opening were played out against a darker harmonic background—was a picture of Pierrot, who had realized the incredible futility of elevating the unworthy into the ideals of his aspirations. Howell rose to chilling heights, exploring the depths of his anguish. The music then faded into nothingness, leaving the audience with a peculiar sense of satisfaction and bitterness.

The concert closed with Schubert’s intense trio in B-flat, Op. 99. The ensemble gave a mesmerizing reading, from the soaring theme of the opening, to the organically evolving streams of melody that speak of incredible hope in the first movement, to the intimate, filigree textures that move through a series of poetic modulations (from A-flat, E-major, C-major, and back to A-flat) of the second movement to the sheer, ferocious exuberance of the last movement. The ensemble seemed wholly integrated in this performance, rising to great heights of artistic vision and expression. Just as the Schmitt piece balanced the Haydn by the virtue of wicked satire, the Schubert trio balanced the icy, penetrating insight and clarity of Musgrave’s Pierrot with a unified vision of optimism. The Glen Flora Ensemble closed the evening with a beautiful sense of completion.