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Concert review: Intermezzo mixes it up to show off the clarinet's many colors

Published July 16, 2014 7:07 pm

Review • Intermezzo mixes it up to cast new light on a familiar piece.
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The theme of Monday's Intermezzo Chamber Music Series concert was contrast. Series president David Porter's idea was to juxtapose a well-loved piece, the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, with another quintet of markedly different character, causing listeners to hear the more familiar music in a fresh way.

Prokofiev's G Major Quintet set up the Brahms quintet nicely, not just because of the 20th-century Russian composer's somewhat unusual lineup of violin, viola, bass, oboe and clarinet, but because its peppery textures and piquant harmonies somehow made Brahms' sweetly nostalgic music sound simultaneously poignant and comforting.

The Prokofiev Quintet is, as the program notes described it, "an unusual and worthwhile little nugget." For the most part, each instrument does its own thing, though the woodwinds often seem to team up against the strings. Monday's performance by violinist Elina Lev, violist Roberta Zalkind, bassist Ted Merritt, oboist James Hall and clarinetist Erin Svoboda brought out a range of personalities: urbane, playful, stern, even a bit contrarian.

Svoboda had a wardrobe change at intermission, returning in a lovely gown that signaled the clarinet's starring role in the Brahms work. But though the Utah Symphony's associate principal clarinetist demonstrated a beautiful tone and refined technique, the performance was markedly democratic.Svoboda blended seamlessly with the string quartet; all five seemed to breathe as one. Porter, playing first violin, was especially expressive. Lev, Zalkind and cellist Pegsoon Whang also displayed top-notch musicianship. The work ends on a subdued note, which came off with exquisite sensitivity in Monday's concert. Whether it was intended as such or not, this performance was a fitting tribute to Gene Scoggins, a longtime supporter of Intermezzo who was the series' treasurer at the time of his death in January.

The concert opened with Rossini's Sonata in C Major for two violins, cello and bass. The violinists, Porter and Lev, traded riffs in a display of friendly competition. Merritt and Whang, likewise, had fun with their respective instruments' unusually tuneful parts. The almost stately mood of the second movement didn't last long, as the piece concluded in a merry dash to the finish. —

Intermezzo Chamber Music Series

Music of Rossini, Prokofiev and Brahms.

When • Monday, July 14

Where • Vieve Gore Concert Hall at Westminster College, 1250 E. 1700 South, Salt Lake City

Next • The series continues July 28 at 7:30 p.m. in Vieve Gore Hall with percussion-centric music of NIkolai Kapustin, Iannis Xenakis and Béla Bartók. Tickets are $18, $16 for seniors and free for students with ID.