MONTPELIER — Vermont Virtuosi premiered a brilliant new work for clarinet and piano by Burlington composer Thomas L. Read at the Unitarian Church on Saturday. The program, which also featured two other eminent Vermont composers and another “American” composer, was repeated Sunday in Burlington.
Today’s contemporary music tends to feel like a journey, a conversation or atmospheric, and ostensibly Read’s “Neighbors” is a conversation between B-flat clarinet and piano. But the performers also created atmosphere and took an ultimately joyful journey.
Less harmonically spiky than much of Read’s music, it opened songfully with warm lyricism, stopped suddenly by a series of exclamations. The performers faze into some rapid virtuosity for both the clarinet and the piano. We then returned to the original songfulness. Making this work compelling was Read’s sophisticated craftsmanship and inspiration.
Saturday’s performance benefited from an able and sympathetic performance by Boston clarinetist Karen Luttik and Montpelier pianist Mary Jane Austin. Luttik played with clean articulation and a warm and singing lyricism. Austin’s security, familiar in central Vermont concerts, proved not only a bedrock but a match to Luttik, making for a most rewarding performance.
Austin and Barre flutist Laurel Ann Maurer, Vermont Virtuosi’s founder and artistic director, were showcased in the 1974 First Sonata by Louis Moyse, the Marlboro Music Festival co-founder who spent his last years in Montpelier. The brilliant three-movement work demands virtuosity of both the flute and piano, and Maurer and Austin delivered that as well as its Gallic warmth and tenderness. It was an inspired performance.
Bennington composer Allen Shawn was represented by his intriguing 2006 “Three Nightscapes” for flute, A and B-flat clarinets and piano. The three well-crafted journeys are each quite different. “Meditation” contrasted tonal lyricism with dissonance, comfort with discomfort. “Dreaming” was a spirited and exciting, often chromatic journey. The final “Remembrance” was elegiac and tender yet full of the unexpected. The writing was expert in this rewarding work.
The program closed with perhaps the original “American” composer. Not only did the Czech Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) use American folk music in some of his works, he advised American composers to do the same. The Three Slavonic Dances, arranged for flute and piccolo, B-flat clarinet and piano by Michael Webster, aren’t among the composer’s greatest works, but they were certainly well played.
Vermont Virtuosi are among the best champions of the state’s music.