The Intermezzo Chamber Music Series closed out its season Monday with one of Johannes Brahms' finest and most moving works on the program.
Brahms' Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, which took up the second half of Monday's concert, certainly ranks among the greatest works for clarinet. Among chamber pieces for this instrument, the quintet has an exalted place, along with Mozart's Clarinet Quintet and his Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, as well as Brahms' two sonatas for clarinet and piano.
What makes Brahms' quintet so special is the profundity of the music: its depth of emotions, its reflective character and its richness of musical ideas. Brahms reaches into his soul here and touches his listeners with his honesty and sincerity.
Playing the quintet was Utah Symphony clarinetist Lee Livengood, who was joined by colleagues David Porter and Lun Jiang, violin; Carl Johansen, viola; and Pegsoon Whang, cello. Livengood and his partners gave a resplendent performance, capturing the poignancy of the music wonderfully. Their reading was emotionally charged but free of dramatics. It was a sincere and moving account that emphasized the quiet resignation and the bittersweet character that flows through the work.
Livengood showed off his musicality wonderfully. He made his instrument sing, especially in the long phrases that open the first movement. But also the slow movement was given an eloquently poetic reading in his hands that captured the dark tones of the music without letting it sink into despair. It was richly expressive and wonderfully textured.
The concert opened with Whang playing Elliott Carter's "Figment" for solo cello. As with most of Carter's late works, "Figment" is short, with a lot of ideas compressed into it. It's an intense piece, and Whang gave a stunning performance. Her playing was polished and vibrant.
There was another Carter piece later in the first half, this time for solo violin, which Porter played. (Carter has been a featured composer this summer on Intermezzo, due to the fact that he will be celebrating his 100th birthday later in the year.)
After Whang, Utah Symphony principal oboist Robert Stephenson and pianist Karlyn Bond took the stage to play Francis Poulenc's stirring Sonata for Oboe and Piano. While the work is dedicated to Sergei Prokofiev's memory, the writing for both instruments is lush and almost romantic but unmistakably with Poulenc's own voice. Only in the middle movement scherzo is one made aware of Prokofiev's spirit in the character of the music.
However, it is the outer movements that are the most compelling in this piece. They are forceful in their emotional impact, and Stephenson and Bond gave a compelling performance that was filled with wonderfully expressed lyricism and finely honed nuances.
The final work on the program was Ernst von Dohnanyi's Sextet for Clarinet, Horn, Piano and String Trio in C major.
Dohnanyi was an unabashed romantic. While the bulk of his works were written in the 20th century, he never left the romantic era behind. His music basks in the late romanticism of Richard Strauss, and Dohnanyi certainly was a master of this style, writing some wonderfully beautiful works as this Sextet from 1935.Playing the work was clarinetist Robert Walzel; Utah Symphony associate principal hornist Ron Beitel; violinist Rebecca Moench; violist Robert Baldwin; cellist Ellen Bridger; and pianist Bond. Theirs was a radiant account of the work that captured the bold lines and the broad and sweeping gestures compellingly. Their playing was dynamic and forceful, yet also finely articulated and nuanced.