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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Strong Concerts From Flanders Recorder Quartet, Prometheus Trio

Classical Review

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More than Zsa Zsa Gabor, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney or any other often married public figure, Henry VIII of England is perennially intriguing. In the final concert of the Early Music Now season, the Flanders Recorder Quartet constructed a program, with narrative, of the king and his six wives, heard Saturday evening at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

The quartet expertly plays an array of recorders, from the highest treble instrument to the subtlety of the bass recorder. Perfectly balanced chords made it easy to imagine what sounds organ builders of the 17th and 18th centuries were imitating. Surprising variety emerged from a family of instruments that generally has a limited range of dynamics and colors. Two guests added significantly to the program, comprised of music of the period, played with style and panache. Narrator Larry Rosenwald delivered a script, most often in rhymed verse, telling of Henry and his six wives. A hedonist image of the king was instead replaced by a man whose life was full of sorrow. Cécile Kempenaers spoke words of the various queens, and was also an able soprano soloist. Kempenaers, whose voice is clear and light, added a good deal of personal charisma to this sold-out concert.

Earlier in the week, at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, I heard Prometheus Trio, an ensemble with a knack for creating interesting combinations of literature. This concert was no exception. Except for a wonderful performance of the masterful Piano Trio by Ravel, the rest of the program was a parade of discoveries. Such was the case with Schumann's Fantasiestücke, a seldom-heard set of four character pieces, featuring an unusually dramatic Humoreske. I had never before encountered the “Kakadu Variations” (Op. 121a) by Beethoven, a fun progression of easy-to-follow inventions.

The richest discovery were two pieces by Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), an amazing talent whose life ended at age 24. One had been played last season by the trio, “D'un matin de printemps.” It was repeated to be heard with its companion piece, the haunting “D'un soir triste,” notable for its languorous melodies and dense and colorful harmonies.
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