Amici presents “The Golden Harp” reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Sunday, February 10, 2008, CBC Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto.

Heidi Krutzen joined her golden harp to the impeccable Amici Ensemble and played a concert of uninterruptedly beautiful music. One highlight was R. Murray Schafer’s programmatic “Theseus (1983) for harp and string quartet”. Ms. Krutzen and the quartet added a flute–Robert Aitken, and a clarinet–Joaquin Valdepenas for Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro”. She played Saint-Saens’ “Fantasie Op. 124 for violin and harp” with Ben Bowman. The Amici, including Steven Dann, viola, David Hetherington, cello, and Carol Lynn Fujino,violin, filled out the concert with Berhard Crusell’s exquisite “Quartet Op.4 for clarinet and strings”, and two pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos, for flute and clarinet, and flute and cello.

The Saint-Saens “Fantasie”, moves lightly in its five sections through alternating moods: idyllic splendour that give way to flambouyant passion in a gypsy mode, which itself subsides into an indescribable tenderness. Ben Bowman’s violin line leads, followed by the lilting countermelodies of the harp, like the assertive prow waves of a boat that are followed by the gentler spreading ripples of the wake.

R. Murray Schafer’s piece,”Thesesus, a section of his theatrical “Patria” series, is a well-constructed musical story depicting the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The ‘programme’ is surprisingly vivid and as easy to follow as the ball of twine that Ariadne gave Theseus to help him find his way back out of the labyrinth where he’d overcome the beast. Schafer’s score is a richly textured tapestry, quilted with a variety of sound panels, interwoven by interesting discordant harmonies, boldly dramatic as it embodies a tale of wierd, fearful mystery, conflict, triumph, celebration, and a return reality that turns out to be as wierd as the labyrinth itself

The surprise of the afternoon was the “Clarinet Quartet No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 4,” by Berhard Crusell, a Finnish composer and clarinet virtuoso active during the first third of the 19th Century. His quartet has a simplicity that is delightful. The melodies of the monothematic movements are distinct, enjoyable, unified in tone, tempo and mood, tending toward a cheerful lightness that is sustained, even during the virtuosic velocities of the final rondo, by the warm tone and dynamic control of the soloist, Amici’s Joaquin Valdepenas.

Valdepenas joined up with Robert Aitken and David Hetherington to develop the langorous discordant meanderings of two short Villa-Lobos compositions that exploit the contrasting movements of breath (flute, clarinet) and body (cello), flow and friction, bouyancy and gravity. Colourful and lighthearted in their play, one cannot help think of an underlying darkness, like that implied by the title of the G.G Marquez novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

The afternoon was brought to a sensational conclusion by Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro”. He wrote it quickly on commissioned from a harp manufacturer who’d learned that a competing firm had hired Saint-Saens to write his “Dances Sacres et Profanes” to advertise their newest harp product.

Ravel’s piece, really a miniature concerto, explores and exploits the full resources of the chromatic harp. From the first whispering collaborations of breathy flute, reedy clarinet, plucked and bowed strings, the piece flits like a butterfly through melodic fragments with subtle grace. During the solo cadenza of the final allegro, Ms. Krutzen’s outstanding touch made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.

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