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Black Cedar returns to Noontime Concerts™ with an ‘international’ program

Kris Palmer and Steve Lin, the members of the Black Cedar Duo
from their Web site

Black Cedar returned to Old St. Mary’s Cathedral today to give another recital in the Noontime Concerts™ series. As was the case last year, they performed as the duo of guitar (Steve Lin) and a variety of instruments from the flute family performed by Kris Palmer. Since last year’s recital, however, they have also expanded to give trio performances with cellist Nancy Kim. Another familiar element from last year’s Noontime Concerts™ recital was that Lin and Palmer each performed one solo composition.

Last year’s program consisted of five selections by composers from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This time each of the five selections was from a different country; and Lin’s solo consisted of the performance of two traditional folk-songs from Taiwan. The arrangements he performed served both to evoke some of the sonorities of the instruments that would have originally played these songs and to exploit the sonorous expressiveness of the modern guitar.

This was nicely complemented by Palmer’s solo, “Flute and Drum at Twilight,” composed in 1980 by Tan Mi-Zi, when he was still a young flute student and the music schools in China had been closed. As might be guessed, the flutist is required to evoke the sounds of both flute and drum, the latter by percussive use of the instruments keys. (Because of the physics of the instrument, each such percussive stroke is pitched.)

The duo performances ventured into three other countries, each with its own characteristic stylistic differences. The opening selection was an arrangement of Béla Bartók’s transcriptions of six Romanian folk dances. This was originally composed for solo piano; but a subsequent chamber orchestra version features solos for clarinet, piccolo, and violin in the second, third, and fourth of the dances. Palmer alternated between alto flute, piccolo, and wood flute to achieve a similar contrast in sonorities, using her wood flute for the remaining three dances.

By way of contrast Black Cedar performed two of the movements from Astor Piazzolla’s suite Histoire du Tango. Piazzolla composed this for flute and guitar in 1986, although it has been arranged for many other instrumental settings since then. The two Black Cedar selections were not played in “historical” order (which is the order in the suite). Instead, the melancholy “Café, 1930” was followed by the high spirits of “Bordello, 1900.”

The program then concluded with arrangements of three Appalachian folk songs composed by Robert Beaser in 1985. The songs were “Barbara Allan,” “The House Carpenter,” and “Cindy.” Since these were arrangements, it is worth noting that “Barbara Allan” was originally a Scottish song that Joseph Haydn arranged for voice and piano trio (Hoboken XXXIa/11bis) for George Thomson. Black Cedar certainly caught the letter of all three tunes; but the spirit was not always there, whether in the diabolical irony of “The House Carpenter” or the earthy sassiness of “Cindy.” Taken as a whole, however, the concert was a highly engaging affair, covering a variety of different styles, each with its own distinctive approach.

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