In his 10 years as founding music director of the Pacific Symphony, Keith Clark seldom took the opportunity to program his own music, though some people might have wanted him to. So one approached the final concert in the "Keith Clark & Friends" chamber music series Wednesday at the Robert Mondavi Food and Wine Center with special interest.
Two works by Clark, who left the Pacific in 1989, shared the bill with music by Haydn, Schubert and contemporary American composer Jane Brockman.
Judgment about Clark's compositional talents will have to wait for more substantial opportunities, however. His "Lost Children (Four Little Kids' Songs After Blake)," composed in 1964, is a work by a serious, studious, capable 19-year-old who had soaked up academic and worthier influences without responding to the great depths of the seminal Romantic poet's texts. But how many composers have?
Clark's "L'Ocho Dodi," on the other hand, is an occasional piece, composed in 1989 to celebrate the wedding of a friend. The short work (less than five minutes long) does exactly what it should: create an unabashedly lyric, attractive aura around the bridal couple. (Incidentally, this was the only piece on the program that Clark conducted.)
Vocal soloist in both pieces was soprano Maurita Phillips Thornburg, who provided polished but also constricted vocalism not only here but also in Schubert's "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen."
Clarinetist William Powell proved unsteady and erratic in Schubert's wondrous work (Trina Dye provided discreet pianism), but managed the banal colorscapes of Brockman's "Ningana" for clarinet, electronics and tape with more comfort and authority.
The high point of the concert, however, was the stylish playing of cellist Dennis Karmazyn in Haydn's early Concerto in C. Karmazyn produced robust but also poised and aristocratic tone. He played his own cadenzas.
Surprisingly, the five-member supporting ensemble did not sound thin, thanks to first violinist Barry Socher, who set lively, buoyant tempos, and harpsichordist Thomas McFarland, who filled out the harmonies. The others were violinist Juliann French, violist Ray Tanabe and cellist Geoff Shank.