Linton celebrates founder, Dick Waller’s 90th birthday with chamber music masterpieces for winds. Longtime friend, Orli Shaham joins Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra principals to honor this man who has contributed so much to classical music in Cincinnati.
Jacques Ibert (1890 – 1962)
Cinq pieces en trio
Jacques Ibert, born in Paris in 1890, studied at the Paris Conservatoire and was a winner of the coveted Prix de Rome in 1919. He subsequently worked as a highly respected director of the French Academy in Rome for over twenty years. Ibert’s music is mainly neo-classical in style, though he is versatile as a composer and his music is often difficult to categorize. His versatility allowed Ibert to adopt emerging styles and create an output featuring everything from traditional classical sounds to more contemporary jazz, and to compose for a variety of instruments and ensemble configurations. Ultimately, Ibert earned a spot as one of France’s best-known composers of the twentieth century and left behind several works that are both beloved and novel.
Though Ibert labeled today’s work as Five Pieces, the individual movements are unified to the point that the work could easily have been labeled a trio. It is a slight work with the shortest movement lasting less than a minute and the longest under three. The sprightly march-like opening Allegro vivo is especially attractive. The Andantino which follows is brief, but reflective; ultimately serving as the introduction for the Allegro assai – a modern minuet with a charming cuckoo passage. A second Andante leads to the finale, Allegro quasi marziale which really is not all that martial but is nevertheless effective in bringing this bright charming work to a successful close.
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)
Trio for Clarinet, Cello, & Piano in A Minor, Op. 114
By 1890, Brahms was set to retire. Seemingly content with the unquestioningly outstanding works he had produced, the composer remarked, “I have worked enough; now let the young folks take over.” Yet his retirement proved ultimately short-lived as Brahms became intoxicated by the clarinet playing of Richard Mühlfeld and was inspired to compose a set of four final chamber works featuring the clarinet over the next three years. Today’s trio was the first piece in the set and has rightly earned its place as a masterwork of the repertoire for its uniquely expressive instrumentation.
The overall mood of the work is somber, but accented by romantic and introspective qualities. The opening Allegro is a standard sonata form that showcases the full range of the clarinet through long, extended melodies that use interplay between the clarinet and cello to highlight the instrument’s sonorous tone.
The Adagio opens with a flowing melody presented in the clarinet’s clarion register that eventually transitions to a new theme through a series of characteristic leaps and arpeggiations. Similar to the first movement, the cello and clarinet play intermingled parts with the piano mimicking this interplay throughout. The latter half of the movement features a series of interesting harmonic and rhythmic modulations that showcase the essential qualities of the trio’s unique instrumentation.
The third movement, Andantino grazioso, presents a folk waltz style in the clarinet that takes on an enthusiastic, cheery tune before moving into the closing Allegro. In the finale, Brahms plays with rhythm to highlight the eccentricities of the trio’s instrumentation. Canons presented between the three instruments combine with syncopation to create a driving finale that remains an audience pleaser and ably demonstrates that, even at the end of his career, Brahms was a true master of the craft.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Quintet for Piano & Winds in E-flat Major, K. 452
The historical importance of Mozart’s Quintet for Piano & Winds cannot be overstated. Composed in 1784, the quintet came in the midst of one of Mozart’s most intense period of concerto composition. He had already completed six concerti that year, and would pen another two before the spring of 1785. It should be no surprise, then, that the quintet functions as a concertante – effectively a piano concerto with no strings. Yet that description glosses over the significance of this instrumentation, which remains rare in chamber music even today. The fact that Mozart was able to perfectly balance all five instruments was no small feat, and one which the composer himself recognized; writing to his father after the quintet’s premiere that he considered it one of his finest works. The quintet stands as a pivotal point for both Mozart and chamber winds. For the composer, it proved to be one of his final compositions for chamber winds, but led to a salient difference in his approach to winds in his larger works and opened the door for his later keyboard-based chamber works. For the instruments, it served as proof of concept that these winds can support chamber works, and helped lead other composers to pursue these new timbres.
The Quintet borrows the three-movement format of a concerto; departing from the four-movement format of much chamber music. The first movement begins with a Largo introduction that immediately places the four wind instruments on equal footing as they engage in a dialogue with the piano before breaking off to converse among themselves. In the sparkling Allegro moderato that follows, the short, syncopated themes allow Mozart to display a wide variety of tone-color combinations as the instruments exchange and develop the musical motifs. As contrasting themes are introduced, it is the winds that carry the main melodies while the piano retreats into the background.
The Larghetto presents a more lyrical theme than the outer movements and reflects the cantabile melodic style Mozart cultivated in his Italian operas. Surprising forte chords introduce a brief development section that returns to the melodic conversations of the opening movement. Here, the piano takes on an almost completely secondary role; interjecting melodic fragments as part of its dialogue with the others, but ultimately allowing the winds to shine.
The solo piano returns in the Allegretto as it presents the dance-like main theme. Ultimately, the piano dominates this final movement by presenting the bulk of the melodic material and featuring textures and figurations throughout its accompaniment sections that can’t help but draw the listener’s ear. The quintet concludes with a cadenza “in tempo,” and fully scored by the composer that opts for a sense of relaxed improvisation from the full ensemble rather than virtuosic fireworks from any one performer.