A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Apr 16, 2013
09:49 PM
Classically Speaking

Marc Fink Offers the Best Kind of Long “Goodbye”

Marc Fink Offers the Best Kind of Long “Goodbye”

Whether Marc Fink is a man of few words or not, anyone would be hard pressed to find the right way to say goodbye to a university after forty years of distinguished service. Sunday afternoon the retiring oboe professor said farewell to the University of Wisconsin’s School of Music in the most eloquent way of all—with his instrument, and with the considerable aid of other musicians.

For once, nearly every seat in Mills Hall was filled, and the concert began appropriately enough with Fink taking the stage alone for “Pan” from “Six Metamorphoses after Ovid” of Benjamin Britten. It was both briefly mesmerizing and clever and a perfect opener, but Fink returned with quite a collection of collaborators. This was for two arias from the cantatas of J.S. Bach that featured oboe nearly as much as the vocalist.

The first was the poignant “Ich habe genug” from Cantata No. 82; the title “It is enough” refers to the line of the aged Simeon who, as promised, as finally seen the Savior in the infant Jesus when Mary brings him to the temple. Baritone Paul Rowe led with chamber-like intimacy, and was not only a partner to Fink’s elegant playing, but the accompaniment of an all-star string quartet (Suzanne Beia, Alice Bartsch, Katrin Talbot and Parry Karp) and Bruce Bengston playing a small organ.The cheery complement was “Sich uben im Lieben” from Cantata No. 202, with soprano Mimmi Fulmer lending a delightfully chipper lilt to the ensemble.

The first half closed with one of the gems of both the oboe repertoire in particular and chamber music in general, the Quartet for Oboe and Strings, K. 370 of Mozart. Again joined by Beia, Talbot and Karp, Fink reveled in both the facile flights of the outer movements and the tender lyricism of the central Adagio.

Mozart gave an assist to open the second half, as it was his “La ci darem la mano” from  Don Giovanni that  Beethoven used for some variations for the presumably rare combination of two oboes and English horn. Fink, with Andrea Gross Hixon on oboe and Kostas Tiliakos on English horn gave it a romp of a reading. The Variations initially found Fink in the spotlight, but Beethoven gave the other reeds plenty to do, and the trio realized all of the work’s good spirits and technical challenges.

It was only at this point that Fink resorted to works with piano accompaniment. First were the “Three Folksongs from the County of Csik” by Bartok, as arranged by Tibor Szeszler. These are quick snapshots, but the movements capture a sense of the countryside due largely to the plaintive tone of the oboe.

As in the Bartok, pianist Todd Welbourne proved a hand-in-glove partner for the Sonata for Oboe and Piano of Poulenc. Here Fink could explore the gamut of expression from the impressionist-tinged opening Elegie to the thumb-your-nose scherzo and surprisingly restrained finale. One more brief work, the Romance from the “Snowstorm Suite” of Sviridov (arranged by Gorodinsky) closed the printed program.

Of course the audience members quickly rose to their feet, as much in tribute to a distinguished career as for a pleasant and memorable Sunday afternoon of music. Fink had planned the perfect bookend encore: another of the Ovid “Metamorphoses” of Britten, this one "Bacchus." As one might expect, it was full of “staggering” rhythms and ended with tangible humor—a great way not to get too depressed at saying goodbye. Of course the good news is that Fink will continue to grace the principal oboe chair of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; it is easier to say congratulations and farewell when we still have some more of his artistry to look forward to.

Photo: Marc Fink, courtesy of University of Wisconsin School of Music.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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