Year by year, the most unusual — and often the most rewarding — programs in the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sommerfest have been found in the Sunday night chamber concerts. Besides presenting good music, the events this year serve as a reminder of the days when the festival prided itself on its novel, adventurous programming.
The past weekend’s lively program paired 20th-century works by Paul Hindemith and Ned Rorem with pieces from an earlier time by Mozart and Rossini.
Pianist Mary Jo Gothmann, cellist Pitnarry Shin and principal flute Adam Kuenzel collaborated during the first half on a precise but imaginative account of Rorem’s beguiling Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano, a work from 1959 that probably branded Rorem back then as a hopelessly out-of-date, French-influenced romantic at a time when concert music was supposed to be austere and abstract. But fashions change. Today Rorem — still composing, they say, at 91 — is viewed as current, maybe even a pathfinder.
Just after intermission cellist Arek Tesarczyk joined bassist Kathryn Nettleman in a spiffy, bravura reading of Rossini’s Duo for Cello and Double Bass, an old-style virtuoso piece that needs this kind of extroverted treatment.
Probably the performance of the evening was principal trumpet Manny Laureano’s impassioned but superbly controlled account of Hindemith’s Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, with adroit pianist Susan Billmeyer acting as his intuitive partner. As Laureano demonstrated in his opening remarks about the work’s forebodings of World War II — Hindemith wrote it in Europe 1939 — this is music that means a lot to him, and he made that even clearer in his compelling performance.
Billmeyer, along with clarinetist David Pharris and violist Gareth Zehngut, opened the concert with a flowing, graceful reading of Mozart’s Clarinet Trio in E-flat. The players, however, couldn’t overcome the balance problem inherent in the piece — the clarinet drowning out the viola.
Subtle, beautiful tuba
The other novelty of the weekend was principal tuba Steven Campbell’s showstopping performance Friday night with Andrew Litton at the podium of Vaughan Williams’ good-hearted Concerto in F minor for Tuba and Orchestra. The tuba, as Campbell reminded us Friday, can do more than cough out those same two notes in a polka.
The tuba, at least potentially, has all the subtlety and beauty of its more glamorous cousin, the French horn. It’s just lower in pitch. Campbell’s tone is big and fat but is capable of great delicacy. Doing a kind of sonic pirouette in the slow movement, Campbell’s playing brought to mind an animated cartoon — a graceful female hippopotamus in ballet slippers and tutu, dancing with immaculate precision the role of one of the swans in ”Swan Lake” and afterward taking a most regal bow and saying to the audience, “You didn’t think I could do it, did you?”
Michael Anthony is a Minneapolis writer.