Listening to 20th-century classical music for the first time is a lot like biting into a jalapeno pepper. The experience might be initially unpleasant. But after repeated hearings, one may acquire a taste for this zesty music. One may even, dare say, start to crave it.
That’s how oboist Jared Hauser developed his fondness for modern classical music. An assistant professor of oboe at the Blair School of Music, Hauser was at Turner Recital Hall on Wednesday evening, performing some of the mid-20th-century’s core repertoire for oboe.
“The first time I heard this music I was absolutely shocked,” Hauser told the audience. “I had no idea that the oboe could play these kinds of works. Of course, these works are now part of the standard repertoire for all oboists.”
That’s why Hauser and his collaborative partner for the evening, the terrific pianist Melissa Rose, titled their program “What Modern Was.” The works they played – by Dutilleux, Persichetti, Lutosławski and Poulenc – may have burned the sonic palates of our grandparents. On Wednesday night, this music went down like creamy vanilla yogurt.
Indeed, it’s easy to forget that French composer Henri Dutilleux was active at the same time as the arch-serialist Pierre Boulez. Unlike Boulez, who seemed intent on rejecting the Western musical tradition (until he started making a fortune conducting its music), Dutilleux clearly wanted to take up where Debussy and Ravel left off.
His Sonate for Oboe and Piano (1947), which opened the program, was many things – wistful, sensuous, athletic. It was not thorny, though at times the music did push the boundaries of tonality. Hauser was impressive in this music, playing with a silvery tone, dead-on intonation (even in his cantankerous instrument’s most stratospherically high range) and flawless technique. Rose played with clarity and style.
I learned just about everything I know about 20th-century harmony from American composer and educator Vincent Persichetti’s terrific book on the subject. So it was a thrill to hear Hauser perform the composer’s Parable III for Oboe, Op. 109 (1968).
In all, Persichetti composed 25 Parables for various instruments and instrumental combinations – his Parable XX is a one-act opera based on the story of Chicken Little. As the title suggests, Persichetti’s Parables all seem imply a hidden narrative, a moral lesson conveyed in notes rather than words. I failed to detect a specific story in Hauser’s performance. Nonetheless, I was impressed with the natural ebb and flow of his phrasing, as if he was engaged in a dramatic reading.
The scariest thing about Polish composer Witold Lutosławski, from the perspective of an English speaker, is the jaggedness of his name (it’s pronounced VEE-“told” loot-uh-SLAHF-skee). His Epitaph (1979), which opened the second half, is a largely lyrical piece, filled with passages that are alternately melancholy and skittish. Hauser and Rose played this music with sensitivity and spontaneity.
Hauser described Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1962) as the greatest piece in the oboe repertoire. I’m not sure that’s true, though Hauser and Rose made a compelling case. The three-movement sonata was composed in memory of Prokofiev, and Poulenc captured both the intense lyricism and motoric energy of the Russian composer (the sonata is also infused with Poulenc trademark Gallic elegance).
Hauser and Rose played this music with polish and panache. It was an impressive display, one that surely turned even the most hardened new-music-phobes in the audience into converts to the cause of 20th-century music.