Eclecticism, imagination, and brilliant execution are regular features of the chamber music series at the Dock Street Theatre. As Geoff Nuttall, the director of the series, put it in one of his informative and engaging comments prefacing each work during Sunday's concert, this was a "crazy program," with diverse instrumental and vocal music from the Baroque period to the present. The program held together, if nothing else because of the consistently imaginative and virtuosic level of performance.
Several selections from Ricky Ian Gordon's song cycle Orpheus and Euridice opened the program. The cycle, written in an appealing and ruminative neo-romantic style, places the role of Orpheus in the clarinet and creates a dual role for the soprano soloist, who alternates between the narrator and the character of Euridice.
The performance began with a musical dialogue between Inon Barnatan on piano and Todd Palmer on clarinet. Palmer slowly entered through the auditorium and wound his way through the audience, his expressive monody reaching out into the space like the poet and singer of the myth, charming the animals and even inanimate objects in a natural setting. Elizabeth Futral (soprano), who is also performing in this season's Émilie, sang with complete control. Like Palmer, she performed barefoot and from memory, interacting with clarinetist and pianist as if in an imaginary opera. The complete immersion of the performers in the music was striking.
The approach to the Concerto for Violin, Flute, Strings, and Continuo in E Minor (TWV 52:e1) of Georg Philipp Telemann was reminiscent of last Thursday's performance of Bach's cantata BWV 82, Ich habe genug. Indeed, the basic sound picture of the strings was even more astringent, with minimal vibrato and crisp, articulate phrasing — an effective approach, particularly telling in the drones and rapid passagework in the final movement. The influence of period-instrument techniques was palpable. The soloists, Daniel Phillips on violin and Tara Helen O'Connor on flute, played with assurance and energy. Samuel Barber's setting of Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach followed, in a truly stunning performance by Tyler Duncan and string quartet.
It was good to be reminded of the expressive power of this early work by Barber, and, through Nuttall’s comments, of Barber’s intimate connection to Menotti, given that this is the latter’s centennial year. Mozart's Sonata in F major for Piano Four Hands, K. 497 ended the program. Pianists Barnatan and Pedja Muzijevic played with subtlety and nuance, yet the first movement felt underpowered. At times, too, quick passages in the bass were unclear. The increasingly florid ornamentation of the middle movement was projected clearly, and the finale was nearly impeccable in precision and drive. The sonata was not, perhaps, the strongest way to close this eclectic program; the program as a whole may have worked better if it had been arranged entirely in reverse chronological order, placing the Telemann concerto at the end and the two vocal works back-to-back.