By Lawrence Budmen 

The penultimate program of the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival was a star spangled salute to the red, white, and blue. On July 23 the Crest Theater in Delray Beach vibrated with a cornucopia of sounds that were distinctively American. From the madcap satirical roulades of Peter Schickele to the inspired melodic and rhythmic inventions of Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland (two bona fide American geniuses), the highways and back roads of American music were explored.

Peter Schickeleís discovery of PDQ Bach (the worldís most justly forgotten composer!!!) has provided musical merriment for four decades. The Dutch Suite in G Major, S-16 for Bassoon and Tuba by PDQ Bach as ďdredged up and edited by Professor (?) Peter SchickeleĒ was a delightful spoof that spotlighted Schickeleís often outrageous ingenuity. He exploited the bassoonís capacity for creepy sounds and ironic musical commentary. Schickele has the tuba repeatedly play its lowest notes. This was not a bundle of fun for the player but provided entertainment aplenty for the audience. The second movement was titled Panther Dance. It turned out to be a witty Baroque version of Henry Manciniís theme from The Pink Panther, complete with the musicians striking their instruments. Bassoonist Michael Ellert and tuba virtuoso par excellence Jay Bertolet had a field day with Schickeleís over the top, tour de force of instrumental writing Ė a wonderful party piece. 

Luigi Zaninelli is a prolific composer and longtime Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. His Rome Suite for Flute, Clarinet, and Bassoon proved to be a pleasant divertimento with idiomatic, piquant writing for the wind instruments. Karen Dixonís pure toned flute soared in the stratosphere. Michael Forteís clarinet and Ellertís bassoon contributed to a splendid ensemble performance. Zaninelliís score was not meant to set the world on fire. The composer penned a light divertissement to enchant and entertain. It was enthusiastically received by the Crest Theater audience.

Samuel Barberís Adagio for Strings was played in its original version Ė the second movement of the composerís String Quartet, Op.11. An endless outpouring of deeply felt lyricism, the score was beautifully articulated by violinists Dina Kostic and Mei Mei Luo, violist Rene Reder, and cellist Yue Tang. The players brought due weight to the musicís flowing stream of poignant undertones. 

Virgil Thomson (renowned as both composer and music critic) weaved folksy, homespun material into sophisticated instrumental garb in his Serenade for Flute and Violin. The concluding Hymn was a particularly potent example of the Midwestern hymnal tradition spiced with modernist harmonies. Thomsonís indigenous concoction was given a superb performance by violinist Kostic and the peerless Karen Dixon on silvery flute.

Aaron Coplandís masterful Sextet concluded the concert on a note of genius. Originally composed in 1933 as the composerís Second Symphony, Copland recast the piece for chamber ensemble in 1937. This is one of his early masterpieces. Creative ideas that would find fruition in the scores for the ballets Rodeo and Appalachian Spring and the film Our Town cast their initial soundings in the Sextet. Coplandís lyrical strain of Americana and vigorous, snappy rhythms dominate this compact but brilliant score. The chamber version is brilliantly conceived, replete with ingratiating instrumental writing. Pianist extraordinaire Lisa Leonard was magnificent in the complex keyboard part. (Copland was a formidable pianist and conceived many of his early works for his own concert performances.) Forte essayed the clarinet line with lyricism and warmth. Violinists Luo and Kostic, violist Reder, and cellist Tang were terrific. They brought rhythmic buoyancy and character to every bar of this masterpiece. Indeed Coplandís inspired music was the perfect celebration of the American spirit. 

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