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The Art of the Arranger

Classical musical gems arranged a little differently

The next Friends of Vienna concert on Sunday, January 19 at 3:30pm in the Unity Church (1243 Delaware Avenue) will feature BPO principal clarinetist John Fullam along with his BPO colleague cellist Robert Hausmann and UB pianist Nancy Townsend in an afternoon of rarely programmed works, highlighted by the premier performance of favorite piano works by Brahms and Debussy as newly arranged by Paul Rosenbloom, the principal keyboard player for the Rhode Island Philharmonic and the artistic director of the chamber group Musica Dolce. Fullam met Rosenbloom 30 years ago, when performing in Caracas, Venezuela, and they have shared a close, working musical relationship ever since.

While the amount of existing classical compositions is already immense, certain instruments, especially the piano, and certain instrumental combinations, such as the piano trio, have a far larger percentage of works originally composed for them then say the clarinet and the clarinet trio consisting of clarinet, cello, and piano, hence the desire to expand the repertoire for particular instruments and instrumental combinations through arrangement of existing works.

Claude Debussy composed his Première Rhapsodie (unfortunately he never composed a “deuxième”) in 1910 when he was a member of the Supreme Council of the Music Section of the Paris Conservatoire. One of his duties was to write two pieces for the clarinet examinations—a very brief piece to be sight-read and a more substantial piece, to be studied at length. Debussy was very happy with the Première Rhapsodie, describing it as “one of the most pleasing pieces I have ever written,” though he later noted: “One of the candidates played it by heart and very musically. The rest were straightforward and nondescript.” Small wonder, since the piece is incredibly difficult to perform well, not only technically but because of the simultaneous high level of artistic sensitivity that is demanded to make a performance work. Debussy went on to orchestrate the piano part, and while it is the orchestrated version that most listeners are familiar with, if only through recordings (the BPO last programmed the work in 1972), the general opinion among clarinetists is that the original clarinet and piano version is the more effective treatment.

Around 1890, Debussy composed his slight, Chopinesque Valse Romantique for piano, before beginning to write the Impressionist works for which he is best known, and this new arrangement of the work by Rosenbloom is for clarinet, cello and piano.

A decades long member of the cello section of the BPO, Robert Hausmann, better known to his many friends as Robbie, has not of late, been heard performing nearly enough as a soloist. This program will remedy that lapse, as Hausmann will be featured playing on his exquisitely toned 1710 Carlo Antonio Testore instrument in two pieces for cello and piano. Little remembered nowadays, Jean Gabriel Marie (1852–1928) was a French composer who wrote in the Romantic tradition, as exemplified in his Chanson Capriceuse for cello and piano. Hausmann will also team with Nancy Townsend for the Trois pieces hebraiques, no. 2: Frejlachs (Improvisation) by Joachim Stutschewsky (1891-1982). Born in the Ukraine, Stutschewsky was an Austrian and Israeli cellist and composer and a member of the New Jewish School, a movement in the Russia of the 1900s that aimed to create a national school of Jewish art music.

Fullam will be joined by Townsend in the Romanza Appassionata and Rondo by Carl Maria von Weber, as arranged by P. X. Laube and G. Beechey, before all the artists reconvene for an entirely new arrangement by Paul Rosenbloom of three late piano pieces by Johannes Brahms.

Late in his life, Brahms met Richard Mühlfeld, the extraordinarily talented clarinetist who inspired him to compose both his clarinet trio and his clarinet quintet, two of the greatest works of chamber music ever written, and well as his two peerless sonatas for clarinet and piano, works previously performed by Fullam on more than one occasion on the Friends of Vienna series. It is a safe bet that clarinetists worldwide would agree that Brahms’s writing for their instrument in these four works, as well as in the orchestral parts of his symphonies, as for example in the clarinet solo that opens the third movement of his first symphony, has never been surpassed.

Fullam says Rosenbloom has a particular affinity for the music of Brahms, so when he was offered Rosenbloom’s arrangement for clarinet, cello and piano of three of the late, solo piano pieces of that composer’s Opus 76 and Opus116 collections, Fullam welcomed the opportunity to add a new piece to the repertoire for the same instrumental combination of Brahms’ iridescent clarinet trio.

Tickets are $10, $5 for students. Visit www.friendsofvienna.org for more information.

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