Prismatic tone colors sparkled throughout Summerfest’s second program with works from the early 20th century by Maurice Ravel, Carl Nielsen, Charles Tomlinson Griffes and Reynaldo Hahn.
During Saturday’s concert at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s White Hall, they displayed a mural on stage created by teenagers enrolled in a Drawing from Nature art class at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The work was inspired by the first piece on the program, Griffes’ “Three Tone-Pictures.”
Griffes, an American, was influenced by the French style Impressionism and this work reflects that inclination, with imagistic titles of bewitching origin taken from poetry: The Lake of Evening, The Vale of Dreams and The Night Winds. Though originally written for piano, they were performed in an ensemble of eleven (string and wind quintets, with piano) arranged by the composer.
The movements were more scene setting than story telling, with wafting, zephyr-like patterns from piano, the themes eliding wind to string voices in a delicate and tricky texture. Timbres blended and bent like refracted light. The piano, performed by Dan Velicer, dominated the final movement with glistening cascades, the winds and strings gathering into a furious fanfare, dissolving with a mystic flourish.
“Serenata in Vano” [Serenade in Vane, or The Useless Serenade], a short, humorous work by Nielsen, followed. Though presented with a story, Nielsen’s way of pairing the instruments, switching the voices regularly, was a party game of color changes, with a solo declaration from bassist Richard Ryan and a semi-cadenza in the clarinet from Jane Carl. The musician character had started to wander off, as though, distracted.
They tracked down Hahn’s unpublished score for “Serenade,” written in 1942. The wind quintet of flute (Michael Gordon), oboe (Melissa Peña), clarinet (Carl) and bassoon (Joshua Hood) performed the work’s North American premiere. It was an overall pleasantly-written and finely-played work, with near constant movement of the theme moving fluidly from voice to voice throughout the first movement, followed by whimsical, yet lonesome sounding second movement and the staccato statement of the third, studded with grace notes in a clean, sprightly performance.
Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor, though written as absolute music, generated a slew of associations and flickering images throughout the excellent performance. The combined voices of violin (Kristin Velicer), cello (Alexander East) and piano (Dan Velicer) shimmered with an amber light in the drifting, translucent opening movement, the primary theme like a private thought shared in an intimate setting, ending on pianissimo harmonics. A ravishing, quick-paced “Pantoum” inserted the strings’ brittle accompaniment into the piano’s broad, rolling line, then flipped the script with lush strings and a dry, pointed piano.
The third movement, “Passacaille (Très large),” began with the single-voiced theme in left hand piano, the cello with a deep, soulful response and violin restating in honey-darkened tones. Though the setting was established by piano and the rising excitement of ascending line and increased dynamic and tension, all that fell away for the spare and subtle duo segment of violin and cello, in a most beautiful moment.
Harmonic fluttering connected the final movement, swirling round like a sky-obscuring Kaleidoscope of butterflies. Grandiose piano contrasted with frenetic sections, the theme distressed and disrupted. Despite challenges in tuning the edgy harmonics, this was a brilliant rendition, shrill trills gilding the line, the strings chasing the piano’s statement and ending altogether with an emphatic punctuation.
Additional performance 3 p.m. July 16. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Ticket information www.summerfestkc.org .