Jazz, Belly Laughs and Coruscating Chopin

United StatesUnited States  Doerrfeld, Stravinsky, and Chopin: Cecile Licad (piano), Northwest Sinfonietta, Christophe Chagnard (conductor), Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall, Seattle 9.11.2012 (BJ)

Bill Doerrfield: Sinfonietta No. 1 (world premiere)
: Pulcinella Suite
: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor

It’s not often that what is rather solemnly called “classical music” raises belly laughs in its audience, but that’s what happened when the Northwest Sinfonietta played Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite in the course of this enterprisingly planned program. Credit goes to Christophe Chagnard for the crisply pointed playing he drew from his orchestra, and in particular to Douglas Nierman, who brought an unusual degree of humor to his delivery of the cheeky trombone glissandos in the Vivo movement.

The program, which was to move over into romantic territory for its second half, had begun with the world premiere of a piece that straddled stylistic boundaries: Sinfonietta No. 1, by Bill Doerrfeld, a 48-year-old Chicago native. Doerrfeld has been active in both jazz and more traditional classical fields. His new work eschews any kind of improvisation in the jazz manner, though some of its fairly dry sonorities point toward that side of his interests. The four movements, all furnished with atmospheric titles, are built with a high degree of craft, if perhaps rather less striking art. The first seemed to me to develop a relatively anodyne theme at somewhat greater length than it deserved. The third movement, however, labeled “Almost There,” offered some pleasantly straightforward lyrical writing, and the stuttering rhythms of the final “Have Another” were entertainingly managed, by both composer and orchestra.

Strong contrast to those two fairly unemotional works was provided after intermission, when Cecile Licad joined the Sinfonietta for an eloquent performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor. The Manila-born pianist coruscated merrily over the many richly decorative passages in the score, while giving the music’s elegance and its warmly expressive side their full value. Chopin’s orchestral writing is not especially rewarding for players or listeners, but Chagnard made it as effective as it can be, to bring a pleasantly varied evening to a satisfying close.


Bernard Jacobson