in: Reviews

June 30, 2014

Nineteenth Century Goes Missing from Charlemont

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In the spirit of the series’s subtitle, “Informal Concerts of Music Old & New,” this season’s Mohawk Trails Concerts opener “Now and Then” deliberately avoided music from the 19th century core chamber music repertoire and featured works rarely heard from the 18th and 20th along with the second performance of a brand new one, that was premièred at the UMass (Amherst) New Music Festival last fall. We attended in Charlemont on Saturday.

Gregory Hayes at the harpsichord, a Peter Fisk French double; Christopher Krueger playing a Baroque traversière, and Alice Robbins on viola da gamba began with the first two of the three Baroque works, “Troisième Concert” from Jena-Philippe Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concert. The opening movement, La Lapoplinière, is a character piece evoking Rameau’s patron and protector, the fermier général Alexandre Jean Joseph Le Riche de La Pouplinière [sic.], whoseprivate orchestra Rameau conducted for some 22 years. The second movement, La timide, is also a character piece, but of the more abstract kind evoking a personality type, while its third, Tambourins, merely evokes a different musical instrument. 2014 marks the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death; it marks the 230th anniversary of the death of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, JSB’s oldest son, best known as an organist, but whose Sonata in E Minor, BR WFB B17, was the next work. It is a typical early sonata with fast movements surrounding a slow dance-rhythm one, but here with a charming Siciliano rather than the more common Menuet.

Violinist Susanna Ogata joined the trio for the 300-year-old Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Trio Sonata in C Minor, Wq 161/1, subtitled Conversation between Sanguineus (the flute) and Melancholicus (the violin). For a more theatrical set of character pieces, whose progression Hayes described prior to the performance pitting the two in an Allegro and Adagio debate, in which melancholy eventually concedes to energy and they unite in the final Allegro leading in to the Intermission with refreshments. The excellent performances captivated the listeners’ attention, while offering an excellent representative sampling of the diversity and charm of the Baroque forms and styles.

After the intermission, we advanced toward the “Now” with a short work by Belgian composer Henri Pousseur (1929-2009), Madrigal II, composed in 1961. From that time’s early music revival movement led by well-known performers such as Gustav Leonhardt and Frans Brüggen, it linked to the first half of the concert, although the music itself is entirely modern, somewhat disjointed even, pointed forward to the next work.

Lewis Spratlan composed his Horn Quartet Laura Klock, who retired at the end of the semester from her position as Professor of horn at UMass Amherst and as Principal horn player for the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, both positions held for 40 years. She was joined in this closer by Elizabeth Chang, violin, of the UMass Amherst faculty, Alissa Leiser, pianist on the Amherst College faculty, of which Pulitzer-Prize winner Spratlan is Peter R. Pouncey Professor of Music Emeritus, and cellist Marie-Volcy Pelletier, adjunct instructor at Smith College. The note beneath the title reads: “In the morning of Friday, December 14, 2012, twenty young children and six staff members of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were massacred by a deranged gunman. This piece was composed in their honor.”

Spratlan explained that he had just begun composition that week of a piece that would somewhat parallel the famous Brahms horn trio, but was so affected by the Newtown tragedy that he felt compelled to change course and bear witness to it with something inspired by it and dedicated to its victims and their memory. The work in three sections, played without pause, evokes the event, his response to it, and a farewell to the deceased. It is modern tonal, but edgy; there are strident motifs and sounds suggesting the violence, crying, and pain. There are also melodies, often in the piano part, that suggest children’s songs, happiness, and innocence. It is an impressive and moving work with dramatic internal shifts in mood and tone but it flows steadily forward to a calm end. It can, however, stand on its own, without knowledge of the “back story.” It is not programmatic or theatrically structured, nor is it in any way political, thereby justifying its generic title. It is thus removed from any obligatory attachment to a specific event or time. It made a fine, albeit far more serious partner for the C.P.E. Bach Sonata that closed the first half. The audience was instantly on its feet at its conclusion with well-deserved extended applause.

Marvin J. Ward, a retired translator and teacher of French (Ph.D., UNC Chapel Hill), has been writing for Classical Voice of North Carolina, a professional journal, for a decade and was founding Executive Editor of Classical Voice of New England through December, 2009. He is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America and also writes for its web site: Classical Voice North America

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