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The Challege of the Diagramless

Review of Concert

Leroy Southers Memorial Concert

Monday, September 27, 2004, 7:30 P.M.
David Friend Recital Hall, Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA

This concert of music by the Berklee College composition faculty was a pleasing, respectful tribute to a recently fallen comrade. Leroy Southers, who died suddenly of a heart attack in December 2003 at age 62, was a tonemeister of Neoclassic bent who was well remembered for his encyclopedic knowledge of classical pieces and their recordings. His Five Aphorisms for flute and piano, which kicked off the evening's second half, are well-argued miniatures well worth revisiting. If this work is any indication, Southers's take on Neoclassicism is spikier and more contrapuntally oriented than most. Here, rhythms are malleable, harmonies have grit, canonic writing is frequent, and forms are non-standardized.

As one might expect, most of the other music heard was brief and elegiac in nature. Beth Denisch's Motherwell Lorca's Bagpipe Lament was particularly memorable, a sturdy solo piano item that layers Highland embellishment onto late Debussy-like austerity. Remembering Leroy, for clarinet/piano duet, shows Andrew List starting off like Ravel and becoming grumpier by the measure—one should add, to excellent effect.

One could subtitle Marti Epstein's Six Small Pieces for Woodwind Quintet "when Morty met Arnie." It's a personal viewing of Schoenberg's Opus 19 piano pieces through Epstein's Feldman-tinted glasses. More dissonant and compact than much of her oeuvre, it can stand unapologetically beside its composer's best utterances. For solo oboe, the four brief movements of Piccola Collana by Armand Qualliotine pointedly show that disjunct linear writing can also be warm, eloquent, and eminently likable.

Perhaps the most ambitious piece on the program, Phaedo by Arnold Friedman encompasses a sizable single movement roughly outlining a slow introduction-fast main body format. Fortunately, the structure of this mixed quintet is not traditional in detail and the harmonies, while scalar, do not lack imagination. It's a strong, effective listen. The Two Songs of Harry Chalmiers discover an unusual midpoint between the France of Stravinsky/Ravel and the America of Rorem/Barber. Here, poetry of Yeats and Stafford are pleasantly set for soprano voice with keyboard backing.

Less memorable were Rich Applin's oboe/piano pairing Song of the High Wind (a 19th century style study) and Yakov Gubanov's Farewell Music for cello solo (a too-obsessive meditation on fifths falling by half step).

Not every performance was good, but the best were laudable. Special mention should be made of Carl Riley (flute), Barbara LaFitte (oboe), Peter Cokkinias (clarinet), Sebastian Baverstam (cello), and Tamara Medoyeva, Epstein, and Gubanov (piano).

Congratulations to all concerned on an able tribute to a much-beloved composer who will be sorely missed.

--David Cleary