in: Reviews

October 10, 2011

Music at Eden’s Edge: 30 Years of Music Making

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Editor’s Note: This review was submitted on time but was lost in cyberspace. Our apologies to author and readers.

The North Shore-based chamber music ensemble, Music at Eden’s Edge, performed at the North Shore Art Association in Gloucester on September 20th.  Chamber music originated as concerts given for relatively small groups assembled in a salon or parlor.  The second-floor room at the North Shore Art Association, painting-filled and lamp-lit, and the audience of about 45 people made the setting just right for this lovely chamber music program.

The sultriness of the weather was wonderfully matched by the mellow and mysterious opening of Mozart’s “Dissonant” Quartet Kv. 465.  Mark Berger’s String Trio No. 2 after T. S. Eliot (that surely demanded careful and rigorous counting by the performers) surrounded the listener with flowing lines, harmonies, and colors.  The evening closed with the rhapsodic lyricism of Brahms’ Quartet Op 52 No. 2 in a minor.

Chamber music needs to be played by performers who are in synchrony, who breathe together.  Neither too loose nor too taut, the connections between the players must be just right — and being just right, they draw the audience in.  That is what happened last night.

Nicely balanced, energetically and musically linked, the group was in wonderful form.  The skilled leadership of first violinist, Dan Stepner, made this possible.  He led the group with the sureness and musicality that has made his playing so important to Boston’s music lovers for so long.  In an age that places such importance on image, it is a treat to hear such dedication to substance.

Inner voices play a special role in chamber music requiring players who can listen with particular astuteness.  Maria Benotti and Mark Berger, Violin II and Viola respectively, were responsive and supportive in equal measure.  The viola melodies in the Brahms were lovely.

As the 16th century musician Zarlino points out, the bass part is like the earth, everything rests on it and is cradled by it.  That role was beautifully taken by Lynn Nowels last night.  Her playing of the “dialogues” between the first violin and cello, matching nuance for nuance, was delightful.

A word about Mark Berger’s String Trio is appropriate (since most readers will already be familiar with both the Mozart and the Brahms).  Don’t be put off by the seven “movements.”  Giving each instrument a prominent role in one of the interludes is very effective and helps articulate the overall form.  The piece does not feel long.  Let me say that Berger “has an ear.”  His sense of harmony and aural connection is strong.  What many composers present as sonic effects (pizzicati, harmonics, and glissandi) he uses with musical effect.  His control and shaping of texture and harmonic pacing was just right.  (This piece will be performed again on Dick Pittman’s first Boston Musica Viva concert of this season at Boston University on Friday next).

The concert marked the end of the 30th summer season of Music at Eden’s Edge, a group of musicians dedicated to providing quality chamber music for North Shore audiences.  Maria Benotti is the founder and Artistic Director.  At a time when classical music organizations both large and small are struggling to maintain their audiences and programming, we on the North Shore owe Maria Benotti a great debt for the vision and energy she has brought to the work of making this important repertoire so accessible to us right here in our neighborhoods.

Lyle Davidson, composer, studied at New England Conservatory and Brandeis. He is on the faculty of the New England Conservatory where he teaches Solfege, 16th-century Counterpoint, and Music in Education courses.

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