Before a full house at Brunswick High School’s Crooker Theater, the first Festival Friday concert of the Bowdoin International Music Festival emphasized the friendship and collegiality among musicians that is the theme of this year’s programs.
Each of the three unusual works on the program required the utmost in collaboration. The final one, the lengthy Brahms Serenade in D Major, Op. 11, in an arrangement of a reconstruction, involved the coordination of 10 instruments without a conductor.
The program opened with a set of Beet-hoven variations on a theme by Mozart, played by cellist Amir Eldan and pianist Pei-Shan Lee. In opening remarks, Eldan said he had bad news and good news: They would not play the Twelve Variations in F for Piano and Cello on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” (“A girl or a little wife”) from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” but would play Beethoven’s Variations on a Theme from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” In this case, the Seven Variations on the aria “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” (“In men who feel love”).
While a bit shorter than the scheduled work, the seven variations lived up to the program notes, full of good humor and surprises and a fitting tribute to Beethoven’s great predecessor.
They were followed by a near definitive interpretation of Cesar Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major by Ilya Kaler, violin, and Boris Slutsky, piano.
Written as a wedding present for the great violinist Eugéne Ysaÿe, the sonata gives equal weight to the piano part, which sometimes sounds like Franz Liszt – just as difficult but without the Romantic ostentation. The close rapport between the two musicians was most evident in the balance of moods, from tenderly romantic to gale-force sturm und drang (storm and drive).
The final movement, allegretto poco mosso, is by far the most familiar, with its exchange of parts between the piano and violin symbolizing wedding vows, followed by the pealing of bells.
The Brahms Serenade has a convoluted history, beginning as an octet, rewritten as a nonet (for nine musicians), destroyed and rewritten as a symphonic serenade for chamber orchestra. Then it was rewritten for full orchestra in 1860 and reconstructed in this century by two composers to the original nonet form and finally arranged recently for 10 musicians.
I am indebted to noted musicologist Willard Hertz for a more complete history of the Serenade, which will be played in nonet form at the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival on July 21. The history is important since the work is long, over 50 minutes, and sometimes sounds as if it were cobbled together. It would be perfect for a garden party where one could listen while strolling the lawns with a glass of good white wine, which may be what Brahms intended when he first wrote the piece at Detmold, Germany, in 1857.
The reconstructors seem to have mislaid the flavor of the young Brahms, both passionate and gauche, and reproduced the atmosphere of later symphonies instead.
Still, the nonet version has many beauties that would make a second hearing worthwhile.
WHAT: Bowdoin International Music Festival – Festival Friday
WHERE: Crooker Theater of Brunswick High School
REVIEWED: July 3. Festival runs through Aug. 8