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Piston Seminar Concert

The Music Box

By Caldwell Titcomb

Friday evening's Paine Hall concert offered works by four student musicians currently enrolled in Walter Piston's composition seminar: Stephen Addiss '57, John Bavicchi 4G, John Crawford 2G, and Nicholas England 1G (the letter D was somehow overlooked). All the music was written, I understand, during the present academic year.

Crawford's two-movement Trio for Clarinet, 'Cello and Piano was the most distinguished in content. The fast, dry style of the first movement was appropriate for the constantly intriguing rhythms. But fewer internal stops would have improved the result. The second movement got off to a fine start, then wandered with little purpose, but came to a haunting close whose effectiveness a third movement would have impaired. A major virtue of the piece was the restraint of the piano writing. The piano was an equal participant in the proceedings, and not, as in many such works, an overpowering mass to be fought against by the two weaker instruments.

It was precisely this problem of balance that tripped up Bavicchi in his Sonata No. 2 for 'Cello and Piano. When the 'cello was playing on the top string, all was well; but again and again the piano writing totally smothered the less penetrating middle strings. The scherzo was stylistically consistent; but the other three movements were episodic and eclectic, the slow movement even starting with homage to Bloch's 'cello rhapsody Schelomo. Bavicchi anchored the first movement on recurrences of a sustained 'cello note punctuated by sharp jabs on the piano, which functioned like the trombone theme in Sibelius' Seventh Symphony.

Addiss' Thre Songs from James Joyce captured the moods of the text well indeed. The clearly phrased "Go Seek Her Out" came off best. In "From Dewy Dreams" the disjunct vocal line violated the verbal accents and bore no apparent relation to the slow piano chords until the last verse.

England's Piano Sonata, like the Crawford piece, was in two movements, a scheme more composers might well experiment with. England unified each movement through consistent application of one device: the first movement, rather rhapsodic in character, exploited the ornament known as the inverted double mordent; the second, clearly structured, utilized a repeated-note pattern.

All the above works received expert performances (a feature all too rare at such concerts), for which credit goes to soprano Dorothy Crawford, 'cellists Judith Davidoff and Laurence Lesser, clarinetist Ronald White, and pianists Martin Boykan, John Crawford and Nicholas England.

The students decided to end the concert with a tribute to their teacher in the form of Professor Piston's own Sonata for Flute and Piano, performed by flutist William Grass and pianist Tan Crone. Piston is one of those rare men who can teach as well through example as through words. This sonata, a relatively early work (1930), showed Piston to be already an impeccable craftsmen. All three movements were skilfully wrought in traditional shapes of almost Mozartean clarity, albeit on a mainly contrapuntal basis. The performance, however, was no more than adequate; Mr. Grass was definitely not "The Incredible Flutist" about whom Piston once composed a ballet.

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