March 31, 2018
By W. Gerald Cochran

Hickory, NC – The Tesla Quartet presented their final chamber concert of the season in the Drendel Auditorium of the Catawba Valley Arts and Science Center Saturday with a concert featuring mostly works for clarinet quintet. Joining the quartet – Ross Snyder and Michell Lie, violins; Edwin Kaplan, viola; and Seraphim Smigelskiy, cello – was clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein. Mr. Fiterstein is considered one of today’s exceptional clarinet artists. He has collaborated extensively with many chamber groups and distinguished artists. He is currently Professor of Clarinet and Chair of Winds at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.

The program opened with Five Bagatelles, Op. 23, by Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). Originally written for clarinet and piano, they were late adapted for piano and string quartet. The writing for the strings is lush, over which the solo clarinet sings with consummate ease.

Next came Soliloquy for Clarinet and String Quartet by John Corigliano (born 1938). The piece was written as a eulogy for Corigliano’s father, who was the long-time concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. Starting with solo violin, the other strings join in and the clarinet is then introduced, and there is an extended dialogue between the violin and clarinet. The feeling is that of desolation. It is a very tender elegy for the composer’s father.

Each year, the Tesla Quartet has a “Call for Scores,” in which composers submit original string quartet scores for future performance by the quartet. The winning score for 2018 was Appalachian Polaroids, submitted by Steven Snowden (born 1981). Mr. Snowden is a composer and performer who currently resides in Boston. He has had an extensive and varied musical background.

This work is a single movement string quartet (no clarinet for this part of the program) which draws its inspiration from fiddling and folk songs of Appalachia. It starts with a recording of Sheila Kay Adams singing “Black is the Color,” recorded in 1976 in Asheville, NC. The quartet gradually enters the scene as the recording fades. They carry with them the remnants of Sheila’s unique singing style as well as aspects of Appalachian fiddling. This is a unique and fun piece to hear, and it certainly deserves to be performed many more times.

The grand finale of the evening was Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). This, and the clarinet concerto, were some of the final, and most beautiful, works that Mozart wrote. The slow movements of both are especially lush, and to some extent, doleful, and bring out the great sonorities of the clarinet. The remainder of the quintet is much livelier, giving the solo clarinet a chance to shine.

It goes without saying that the Tesla Quartet’s performance was impeccable. Mr. Fiterstein’s was some of the finest clarinet playing that I have ever heard. His tone is smooth and silky, and his control is incomparable, the nuances of dynamic and character exceptional. I do hope that I have the opportunity to hear more of him.

The Tesla quartet will soon be recording all of the clarinet quintet works heard here, plus more. Look for the CD to be released in early 2019. Of course, they will return next fall for the 2018-2019 Chamber Classics Series.