Sunday, November 18, 2018

ICO patrons get a chance to hear a stellar principal player in a major concerto

Anton Stadler was a bit of a mess as a person, but as the premier clarinetist of his day he made posterity lucky in the music his excellence as a musician drew from his friend Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791).
Eli Eban is also acting principal of the Israel Camerata/Jerusalem.

Among the the results is perhaps the greatest wind-instrument concerto, the one in A major for clarinet, K. 622. Eli Eban, distinguished professor of clarinet at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, played the work at the peak of magnificence Saturday with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, of which he is principal clarinet. In the Schrott Center for the Arts, music director Matthew Kraemer conducted a program that also included Mendelssohn's "Trumpet" Overture in C major, op.101, and Luciano Berio's "Rendering," a restoration, with linking original material, of sketches for Franz Schubert's Tenth Symphony.

The concerto is one of the marvelous products of Mozart's last year, completed between two other miracles: "The Magic Flute" and the Requiem. It's hard to imagine such work stress (and the health problems that were to kill him by the end of the year) yielding such deathless benefits, but that's among the wonders of genius.

Not much is known about Stadler, though he earned the disapproval of Mozart's family, for reasons probably including his failure to repay an unsecured loan of 500 gulden. Michael Steinberg points out that sum was more than the composer's normal commission for an opera. The composer's affection for Stadler was undercut by the realization that, as he wrote his wife in October 1791, Stadler "is only a little bit of an ass, not much, but that [Franz Süssmayr, who completed the Requiem after Mozart's death] — well, yes, he's a real ass."

This old gossip is related here mainly to underline the way artistry can supersede personal flaws. In this case, with a work that explores the instrument's deepest range in addition to exploiting Stadler's feathery pianissimos, Mozart handed something special down to posterity, available for personalizing to any clarinetist who can manage it, as Stadler presumably did.

Eban more than managed it; he brought out the work's stature in chamber-music terms, working hand in glove with the accompaniment. The orchestra is simply strings, with pairs of flutes, horns, and bassoons. It showcased the soloist well, who never forced a note or executed an unbalanced passage. His breath control yielded supple phrasing; even the longest stretches of rapid notes in the finale were brought off neatly. On top of Eban's thorough command of the piece, his performance was freighted with the human warmth that makes Mozart's best music so appealing when played superbly. For an encore, the word's literal meaning "again" held sway, and Kraemer led Eban and the orchestra in a long excerpt to the end of the second movement.

The concert opened with a precocious work by Mendelssohn, an overture whose nickname points to the prominence of its hearty brass fanfare at beginning and end. There is a wealth of contrasting material, including an exhibition of the teenage composer's knack for counterpoint and a theme that breathes the Black Forest atmosphere of Weber's "Der Freischutz," a sensation at the time Mendelssohn composed both this overture and the incidental music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The ICO offered a well-balanced, colorful account.

Completing the focus on the southern end of the German-speaking world was the Schubert-Berio "Rendering," the three movements that Berio concocted in 1990 out of Schubert's Tenth Symphony sketches, with linking material reflecting the Italian composer's stylistic predilections. The result is kind of a two-century teeter-totter, with what sounded like a new direction the Viennese composer was taking from the Great C major Symphony (No. 9) linked by sometimes unsettling, sometimes dreamlike washes of modernism usually keyed to the ethereal sounds of the celesta.

"Rendering" is a challenging novelty of the kind that speaks to the ICO's artistic growth under Kraemer's direction. The performance was also a suggestive tour of the connection between the fragility of artistic achievement — sometimes seen retrospectively and deceptively as a series of imperishable monuments — and life's uncertainties. In fact, there's more than a hint in even great art of a tendency to vanish as unaccountably as large loans of money to the likes of Anton Stadler.

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