in: Reviews

July 26, 2009

Monadnock Music Achieves High Aims with Small Forces

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Monadnock Music presented a free concert of excellently delivered chamber music at the Francestown, NH Old Meeting House Friday evening, July 24.  The historic site offered a wonderfully unique venue for such an eclectic program. The concert featured a set of Elizabethan Songs, a contemporary work by Roberto Sierra for guitar and string quartet, two short early 20th-century French pieces for soprano and flute, and Brahms’s highly celebrated Clarinet Quintet. While this concert was not one of the most featured attractions of Monadnock Music Festival’s Summer lineup, it exhibited the kind of performance rigor and stylistic variety that sets Monadnock Music at the top tier of summer music festivals in the Northeast.

The Elizabethan Songs that opened the evening highlighted soprano Ilana Davidson and mezzo Janna Baty. The pieces were delightfully complementary, presenting the music of Purcell, Dowland, and John Coperario as a single cycle. Dan Lippel provided the lute part on guitar, which worked exceptionally well for the Dowland songs. Davidson and Baty each performed with exceptional individuality. This was to the advantage of the pieces in which they sang alone; the Dowland and Purcell songs were interpreted with a distinctive vibrancy, which made the pieces far more engaging than most performances in this idiom.  However, the opening and closing Coperario duets, seemed to suffer at this approach, missing the characteristic symbiotic blend that is so crucial to Early vocal music.

Roberto Sierra’s Triprico for guitar and string quartet achieves the difficult balance between accessibility and craft.  The piece is as inventive as it is engaging – and as virtuosic as it is inventive. The contrast of lingering, elastic string textures and crunching, driving rhythms reminiscent of Ginasterra was executed with excellence. Guitarist Dan Lippel was simply brilliant, knowing exactly when to thrust above the sting quartet and when to melt into its textures. The energy was palpable from the beginning, emanating from cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer throughout the ensemble, until the final exclamatory cliffhanger of an ending.

Ilana Davidson returned with flutist and artistic director Laura Gilbert to perform Deux poémes du Ronsard. The two short pieces by Albert Roussel, Rossignol, mon mignon, and Ciel, aer et vens are genuine pearls of the second-generation French Impressionists. The voice and flute resonated together with an organic and captivating sense of chemistry.  Davidson’s expressiveness and charisma during the two short pieces was nothing short of highly contagious.

The concert closed with an top-notch performance of Johannes Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet in B minor. Representative of Brahms’s later compositions, the piece has been esteemed as his highest achievement in chamber music. Clarinetist Steven Jackson led the ensemble with comfort and sensitivity throughout the work’s 35 minutes.  The ensemble did the masterpiece justice, underlining their ability to perform with diligence and authenticity, in addition to the musical amiability that was so abundant throughout the evening.

Peter Van Zandt Lane is a composer and bassoonist who performs regularly in the Boston area. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Music Composition and Theory at Brandeis University.

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