in: Reviews

May 18, 2009

Standing Stillness, Smashing Success

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The Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston wrapped up their 2008-09 season series with a program of spirits voices ecstatic at the Goethe-Institut Boston on Sunday, May 17. Adding still more personalities to the already changeable ensemble were invited guest artists Elizabeth Keusch, soprano, and Aditya Kalyanpur, tabla. Composer Shirish Korde, who teaches at the College of the Holy Cross, was on hand to provide insider information.

In the hands of cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer and pianist Vivian Chang-Freiheit, Robert Schumann’s dreamy and highly personal syntax should have become the perfect escape into the land of that German Romanticist’s inimitable Fantasiestücke, Op. 73. Here, phrases weave in and out, thoughts coming and going, most of them finding completion at some later time. This duo rarely caught the fantasy’s essence. Dreaming and drifting became, instead, a very respectable, but nearly lackluster reading.

Kelli O’Conner’s ultra pure sound on clarinet in lower as well as higher registers of the instrument was everything one could imagine Arvo Pärt wanting for his Spiegel im Spiegel or “Mirror in the Mirror.”  In this 1978 minimalist piece that posits itself on the simplest parts of musical language, O’Conner’s scale sightings came without a stitch of vibrato. Ever-so-tamed crescendos and diminuendos on single notes of the major scale verged on the subliminal. Her breath control in evidence throughout never distracted but rather led more deeply into the meditational experience Pärt created and crafted so wondrously.

The Chameleon Ensemble presented the world premiere of Zikhr: Songs of Longing for soprano, flute, string trio, harp, tabla and percussion. In his preconcert talk Shirish Korde listed Indian, Arabic, Flamenco, and jazz as some of the ingredients in this melting pot of musical cultures. Zikhr was sometimes overripe and oftentimes congested. The small but alert audience clearly seemed to take to the four songs Elizabeth Keusch sang with varying levels of international flair. Quite a few of Korde’s sonically conceived textures, especially drone-oriented ones, certainly did astonish. But when the going went into more rhythmic places, I started imagining myself out on the Cambridge Common grooving along with the talented Aditya Kalyanpur.

Toru Takemitsu’s fine Rain Spell for flute, clarinet, piano, vibraphone & harp, one of a number of works on the subject of water, a continuing theme in the composer’s works, was another matter. Its fluid continuum of gorgeously evocative sound cast its spell through the artful interplay of flutist Deborah Boldin, clarinetist Kelli O’Connor, harpist Anna Renersman, percussionist William Manley, and pianist Vivian Chang-Freheit. Nothing violent occurred in this sometimes strange, sometimes familiar world of rainy nature that, with one less drop over time, eventually settled into a standing stillness.

The Chameleons wound up their program with a smashing performance of the Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 45 by Gabriel Fauré. It was, in my view, one of the best performances of anything I have heard around Boston during the entire 2008-09 concert season. Gabriel Fauré is not played all that much; the G minor quartet even less often. I can recall Mademoiselle Boulanger-a student of Fauré-saying to me during one of my lessons with her in Paris that his music, being what it is, would always remain outside the mainstream.

If you have the chance to get to know Fauré through the Chameleons – violinist Katherine Winterstein, violist Scott Woolweaver, cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer, and pianist Gloria Chien – you will most likely find yourself completely falling for the turn-of-the-twentieth-century Frenchman’s intriguing and seemingly abstemious world of harmony and humanity. These four superb musicians captured every one of the many rich unisons populating the music. Whenever each peeled off into contrapuntal dialogue it was just as thrilling to experience the four having truly become one ecstatic voice.

Gabriel Langfur’s program notes guide the concert-goer into the music through their fine presentation of context and detail.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and Chairman of the Department at U. Mass Boston for the past 15 years, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. Also a composer, he lives in Watertown.
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