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Variety is the spice of music

BFOM serves sensational smörgåsbord
by Christopher Key

At this point in the Bellingham Festival of Music season, I’ve officially lost count of how many standing ovations have happened. It’s really about quality, not quantity, and the quality of the standing ovations has matched the quality of the music. Tonight’s concert offered a little something for everyone and every selection was a winner.

First on the menu was George Bizet’s Petite Suite from “Jeux d’enfants,” Op.22. Jeux d’enfants means “Children’s Games” and was originally a 12-part composition for piano duet. He orchestrated five of the parts, thus creating the Petite Suite. The joys of childhood shine forth in each number. The horn section got things off to a rousing start. There is an amazing passage in the Lullaby that starts off with the cellos, gets passed to the violas and ends with the violins. It was executed so smoothly that it was almost like one instrument playing.

Bellingham’s Heidi Grant Murphy has been more than generous with her talents during this festival and she was back again tonight to perform Chants d’Auvergne by Cantaloube. Ms. Murphy’s sparkling personality helped sell the songs, but she was often overbalanced by the orchestra. This has been a concern before in this festival and it needs to be corrected. It’s the only serious flaw I have found after several years of attending the festival and it shouldn’t be that difficult to remedy.

Photo credit - Jennifer Gasparian

Following the intermission, the festival’s outstanding oboist, Joseph Robinson, blew the audience away with his performance of L’horlage de flore (The Flower Clock). This composition by Jean Francaix is based on Carl Linnaeus’ classification of flowers by the time of day they bloom. The oboe has a personality that ranges from ethereal to ebullient and has never been more brilliantly played than by Robinson. The retired principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic received solid support from his comrades in the woodwind section, especially clarinetist Laura Ardan.

The festival chorus, always a delight to hear, provided the exclamation point at the end of this concert. It was Francis Poulenc’s Gloria and it was glorious. This stunning interpretation of part of the Latin mass challenged the chorus with passages ranging from whispery to thunderous. Dr. Mitchell Kahn, who so ably fills in for me when I have a conflict, was part of the chorus and described the rehearsals as rather grueling. It was worth it. I’ve heard recordings of this work, but nothing matches hearing it performed live. Ms. Murphy contributed soprano solos that showed off her remarkable range and control. This time, she wasn’t drowned out by the orchestra and we could hear every delicious note.

There is only one more concert in the series, featuring sensational young violinist Stefan Jackiw. That occurs on Sunday and you may still be able to score a ticket by calling (360) 650-6146. Dr. Kahn will review that concert for you while I take in the final show at Bard on the Beach. This time of year, the choices are often agonizing.

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