Good musicians - like good audiences - never tire of new experiences. Clarinetist Edward Palanker is a case in point.
This 40-year veteran of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and 12-year veteran of the Peabody Institute faculty spiced his concert Wednesday night at Peabody with a good deal of fresh music. A trio by Mozart and a rhapsody by Debussy were the only "standards" on the program; the rest, including a sonatina by Martinu and a refashioning of some Bartok dances, was decidedly novel, and rewarding.
There's something about the combination of clarinet and string quartet that seems to inspire the best in composers, among them Mozart and Brahms. In 1998, another masterful clarinet quintet was added to the repertoire by Peabody alum Stephen Prustman.
His Dramatis Personae is a thoroughly engaging piece that, after a short prelude, conjures up a remarkable cast of characters - jazz great Charles Mingus, Don Quixote and a troupe of tap dancers. The Mingus movement is propelled by a steady, churning rhythm and moody chords; the music generates considerable heat. The second movement, Historia y Romance, exudes a rapt beauty. And the finale, Tap, truly dances, with fun riffs for everybody and even a little physical shtick (all but the cellist take a turn standing up to play for a quick measure or two).
Prustman borrows idioms from a wide variety of styles and fuses them into something individualistic, something of great imagination and integrity. He treats the clarinet as very much an ensemble instrument that blends seamlessly into the fabric of the strings, instead of seeking its own ground.
Palanker was joined by violinists Ivan Stefanovic and Ellen Pendleton Troyer, violist Karin Brown and cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski in a suave, colorful performance.
Also of note was Lutz Mayer's Night Sounds for solo clarinet from 1990. It's a study in soft shades and reflections, full of subtle lyricism. Palanker played it with exceptional control and expressive warmth, especially the last, repeated, slowly fading lines that trail off into that other world where sound ends but music somehow continues.