Pair get chamber series off to an uneven start

Flutist Jan Vinci and pianist Pola Baytelman opened the 79th season of the deBlasiis Chamber Music S

Flutist Jan Vinci and pianist Pola Baytelman opened the 79th season of the deBlasiis Chamber Music Series Monday night at The Hyde Collection with a program that was a “Celebration of the New.” That’s new in having been written within the last 50 years.

The musicians, both senior artists-in-residence at Skidmore College, shared the program in that Baytelman performed three works alone, Vinci did one piece and they played two together. Most of the works were unknown to the crowd, although the composers’ names were familiar.

Baytelman began with Joseph Fennimore’s “An Old Soft Shoe” (1977). Baytelman said the soft shoe was a kind of tap dance and this tap dancer was a bit drunken. There was some pretty lyricism, a lot of tricky rhythms and some heavy chordal material. Harmonies were jazz inflected. Rather short, it was still funky and fun. Baytelman seemed to struggle a bit in the big chordal sections.

Vinci then played (her husband) Mark Vinci’s “Crow’s Nest” (2011), as in the top of a ship’s mast. Although there was a bouncy kind of melody, there were several effects: humming into the flute while playing, key accents, heavy tongue accents. A few jazz-inflected riffs were tricky, as were the syncopated accented rhythms. The mood was jaunty. Vinci seemed on top of the demands.

Katherine Hoover’s “Medieval Suite” (1984) was inspired by aspects of 14th-century France and as such depicted each of the five movement’s titles. Hoover, who is a flutist, featured many of the flute’s aspects: its tonal lyricism, low register work, and technical facility, but the piano part was more about punctuation. The parts also were independent of each other and somehow didn’t seem to fit.

Vinci played with a big sound and was most eloquent in the “Black Night,” which was dark and rose to a frenzied cry to simulate the terrors of the plague; and the tragedy of a 6-year-old princess being betrothed, which was a sigh of a filigreed paean that became a cry of dismay and distress.

Lowell Liebermann’s “Gargoyles” was the best-written work on the program with its romantic lyricism, interesting development and magical colors. The first movement was quirky, like two crabby nasties; the second was stark, serene and lovely; the third was rippling in liquid greens and blues with the scarlet of a fish flashing through; the fourth ebbed and flowed quickly and dramatically. Baytelman made a good effort but didn’t seem comfortable.

But in George Crumb’s “Little Suite for Christmas” (1979), she was effortless and assured as she plucked, stroked, and pounded the piano’s strings in Crumb’s exploration of timbre.

Jennifer Higdon’s “Flute Poetic,” which was commissioned by the duo and premiered last year at Skidmore College, was a misfit compared to much of her other writing. Although Higdon is a flutist (she studied with Vinci in high school), her three movements were about rhythm, muted piano strings, and writing difficult fingertwisters and awkward trills. The piano and flute also seemed at odds.

In compensation, they offered as an encore a melodic Celtic-type encore by Paul Schoenfield, “Achat Sha’alti.”

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