The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: The 35th Karp Family Concert brought new faces and new music to the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

September 12, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

This review should have appeared sooner and would have, had it not been for the plethora of concerts and stories centered on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 events and other timely concerts, including the season openers of “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” on Wisconsin Public Radio and of Classical Revolution Madison, which performs in non-traditional venues.

But I really would remiss if I didn’t say something about the 35th annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert  (below) last Monday night, which is the traditional and very popular concert that opens the concert season and school year at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

There were some very familiar faces to be sure, including grandparent pianists Howard and Frances Karp; cellist son Parry Karp and violist daughter-in-law Katrin Talbot; UW clarinetist Linda Bartley; and violinist Suzanne Beia, who performs with the Pro Arte and Rhapsodie Quartets, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

But part of what made the concert a week ago so appealing and impressive was the new faces and the new music that the audience – probably somewhere between a one-half and two-thirds house — got introduced to.

The adventure started right away with cellist Parry Karp playing Sol B. Cohen’s Two Duos for Cello, which were composed for him in 1966, with his daughter Ariana, newly returned from Reed College where she majored and graduated not in music but theater. Yet playing with her dad, she easily held her own.

The two short pieces (“At Twilight: Andante” and “At Sunrise: Allegretto”) were accessible and delightful, hardly experimental or bold. But the performances was endearing as you can judge for yourself from the video below (I apologize for the missing first second or two at the beginning – a lag in the recorder’s finger push):

Another new face was introduced in another new piece: UW hornist Daniel Grabois (below, pronounced gra-BOY), the successor to the retired Douglas Hill, made his local debut in Robert Schumann’s rarely heard Andante and Variations for Two Pianos, Two Cellos and Horn, Op. 46. Composed at the height of Schumann’s career, it is quintessentially Schumannesque in its quirky scoring. But it worked beautifully in the hands of these performers who brought out both the Romantic lyricism and the rhythmic verve.

Grabois possesses a golden tone and nailed the high notes, something hard to do on the French horn. Moreover, he also blended seamlessly so that you could hear all the various interplay and dialoging going between the two pianos and two cellos and all the permutations of the various instruments. One looks forward to hearing more from Grabois, especially in the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.

Listeners were on more familiar turf with Parry Karp’ cello transcription of Brahms’ gorgeous Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108, performed by himself and his father Howard (below). Parry Karp does many transcriptions, and they all seem extremely suited to the cello and to its singing-like sonorities and tone. This one was no exception, and he and his father played in a soulful and balanced manner. Was ever more beautiful music composed than the slow movement?

After intermission, Frances Karp played the rarely heard Piano Quintet in D Major by the 19th century Czech composer Zdenek Fibich (1850-1900. below)). Mind you, this work is no undiscovered masterpiece. It stands a notch or two above most salon music but also several notches below, say, Dvorak or Brahms.

Still, it is a good chance not only to enjoy something new but to ponder just how selective history is when it comes to determining what later generations will hear as great masterpieces.

The work also provided a good occasion to think about playing and performing. Frances Karp (below, at the piano) is a small figure who makes a big and beautiful sound, especially in a difficult piece. In such a distinguished musical family, she stands as a full equal.

The work by Fibich – which uses a clarinet rather than a second violin — has its charms with many lyrical moments plus the feel of ethnic dance rhythms and harmonies much like you find in Fibich’s countrymen Dvorak and Smetana. The at times klezmer-like tone of the clarinet part, played beautifully by Linda Bartley, may account for much of that.

Several standing ovations greeted the performers throughout the concert, a sign of the affection and esteem that they and their annual Labor Day gift (they have never repeated a piece) are deservedly held in.

If you missed the concert and want to hear it, you can stream the audio (but, alas, not the video) on the UW School of Music’s homepage under the Events Calendar. Look for the miniature loudspeaker. (The streaming versions are posted usually within 24 hours of the concert. I would like to see the school stream major concerts live and also include video with the audio, though I have been told it is a question of money, personnel and technology or storage space.)

I hope you enjoy the whole concert as much as I did. Here is a link:

Let us know what you thought of the performers and the pieces.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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