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Stoltzman captivating; Harbison compelling

Richard Stoltzman, clarinet recital, Jordan Hall, November 17; Boston Chamber Music Society, Sanders Theatre, November 17, event in The Tech Performing Arts Series; David Deveau, piano recital, Jordan Hall, November 16.

Richard Stoltzman could convince an audience of the merits of any piece of music: His playing bubbles with so much life and he is so clearly enjoying himself that there's no choice but to sit back and be entertained.

Stoltzman is complete master of his instrument, but he is no practitioner of cheap showmanship. Sunday afternoon in Jordan Hall, he played a varied program, some of which would have been in dangerous territory for a conservative Boston audience but for Stoltman's charisma.

Take Alban Berg's Vier St"ucke, for example, launched on a Jordan Hall crowd hypnotized by the sensuous beauty of Stoltzman's performance of Debussy's La Fille au cheveux de lin then captivated by Debussy's Arabesque II. The four Berg pieces -- experimental music played for Schoenberg, Berg's teacher, at a concert no critics were allowed to attend -- probe the range of the clarinet, requiring some extraordinary sounds to be produced. Stoltzman attacked the pieces with inventiveness and kept the atmosphere bristling with suspense -- it was impossible to avoid being drawn into his musical world.

The Allegro amabile was indeed given a smiling performance, the warmth of playing, subtlety of coloration providing new insights at every turn. Irma Vallecillo provided a well-balanced piano complement to Stoltzman, drawing him from Summer into autumnal hues.

Stravinsky's Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo were gripping, especially the last of them, done on an E-flat clarinet: Stoltzman drew the jazz out of the piece, while maintaining its Stravinsky identity.

The remainder of the program -- Bernstein and Gershwin arrangements -- was pure entertainment. The final encore, Serenity, by Charles Ives was just that: serene.

John Harbison's technique in his Piano Quintet is to push listeners into his music at the top of the funnel, trap and then guide them carefully through, before expelling them at the end, mezmerized and elated.

The Quintet, highlight of Sunday's concert by the Boston Chamber Music Society in Sanders Theatre, drew the best of the evening's playing from the ensemble. The rhythms raged frenetically for the exciting Overtura: Allegro, to be displaced by gentle pizzicato humor in the Capriccio. Close ensemble playing paid dividends in the Intermezzo.

Concentration intensified yet more for the furious Burletta, extrovert on the surface, perhaps, but given a magnetic, inward-drawing treatment to evoke Harbison's special world.

Christopher O'Riley started the tensions flowing in the closing Elegia, pizzicato then falling through the electric-fresh atmosphere as stray raindrops in the lull of a storm. Fantastic impressions of mystery grew in intensity as the piece increasingly drew into itself, the last poignant, memorable note leaving the listener in a trance, the mind cleansed.

David Deveau gave a miserable Chopin recital on Saturday in Jordan Hall. His whole approach -- superficial and uninvolved -- lent a crassly mechanical air to the evening: Deveau could play the right notes, but they lacked substance. The Polonaise Fantaisie, Op. 61, which began the program was unromantic, the lengthy Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, which ended the proceedings was as lengthy as it was flat. It was an unmusical evening, a big disappointment following Deveau's rapturous recent Mozart playing with Sinfonova. I wonder what happened.

Jonathan Richmond->