Classical season ends on complex note
By Ruth Bingham
Special to The Advertiser
Chamber Music Hawaii's Tresemble will bring the 2009-2010 classical music season to a gentle close tonight that will leave audiences mulling over its layered meanings and wondering how much was intentional.
The program began innocuously enough, with Saint-Saens' "Une flute invisible" (An invisible/unseen flute), a blithe pastoral love song featuring soprano Vicky Gorman with flautist Claire Butin and pianist Thomas Yee.
The song suited Gorman's very light, clear voice, its timbre akin to the flute and its size a good fit for the concert hall.
Gorman turned out to be the concert's featured artist, contributing seven more songs to the program and closing the first half with Ravel's three "Chansons Madecasses" (Songs of Madagascar), in ensemble with cellist Joanna Morrison in addition to Butin and Yee.
The songs' poet, E.D. de Forges, Viscount of Parny, never actually set foot in Madagascar, but his erotic, dramatic texts inspired wonderful music.
All three texts are from a male point of view, which Gorman presented handily, no apology necessary. "Nahandove" (purportedly the name of a native woman) limned a nighttime tryst, from awaiting to farewells. The performance did not quite capture the sexual climax of the fifth strophe, but was lovely nonetheless.
"Awa!" (more typically spelled "Aoua!" and akin to Hawaiian's "auwē!") was a vicious condemnation of colonialism that made everyone jump. And "Il est doux" (It is sweet) returned to erotic love, juxtaposing the sweet talk of indolent love with a perfunctory closing line that added an ironic barb.
Art songs such as these are as much intellectual as aesthetic fare. Understanding the texts is essential, so audiences will want to follow along using the program.
Between the songs were four movements from trio sonatas attributed to (but probably not by) Giovanni Pergolesi, in an absolutely delightful performance by Butin (flute), J. Scott Janusch (oboe), and Marsha Schweitzer (bassoon).
One of the anomalies of music history is that the so-called "Trio Sonatas" of the early 18th century were typically performed by four musicians. Tresemble's decision to perform using only three instruments lent an almost effervescent lightness of texture that suited the music's early classical aesthetic of beauty and grace.
Debussy's Sonata, which opened the second half of the program, is also a trio, but by the early 20th century, trios were actually trios, and this one was performed wonderfully by Butin (flute), Anna Womack (viola), and Constance Uejio (harp).
Only one set on the program was transcribed: the four "Ruckert-Lieder" by Mahler that closed the program, transcribed from their orchestral and piano versions into a mini-orchestra of 11 musicians.
Virtually all the musicians performing used to be members of the Honolulu Symphony, which is undergoing bankruptcy, making this performance, the season finale, the closest Honolulu audiences have been of late to hearing the symphony.
Their final song was "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" (I have gone missing from the world), a gorgeous piece that captures perfectly that exquisite tension between the pain of having been forgotten and the peace of solitude.
When dealing with solitude and death, Mahler composed with great depth and passion. This song is a perfect example, but it also made for an unusual, even unsettling close. Rather than the triumphant, joyous finale typical of season closers, this one ended with a heart-wrenching postlude that confuses happiness and tears.
The piece also threw the entire program into a new light: suddenly, the unseen flute seems to conjure the poem's song into the symphony and the lovers into musicians and audiences; Pergolesi's sonatas become the former grace and beauty of a world in orderly harmony, while Ravel rails against colonial contracts, and ...
Surely this is beyond what was intended? CMH is leaving listeners with much to contemplate over the summer.