in: Reviews

November 30, 2009

Amazing Grace, Amazing Prodigy at Winsor Series

by

The Winsor Music Chamber Series, under the musical direction of Peggy Pearson, presented a well-crafted program on November 28 at Lexington’s Follen Church. At the concert’s center was a moving performance of John Harbison’s Chorale Cantata written in 1995 by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer for soprano Dawn Upshaw and oboist Peggy Pearson.

The audience was prepared for this performance by Mr. Harbison’s warm and convincing talk on the subject of his compositional techniques and the genesis of the piece. Though Chorale Cantata is quite lyrical, it nevertheless benefited from Mr. Harbison’s introduction. He was particularly helpful in his elucidation of the differences between modal and tonal music in general and the limitations inherent in harmonizing Martin Luther in particular. Mr. Harbison’s talk also revealed the acoustical problems inherent in an octagonal space. His articulation varied from clear to unintelligible as he perambulated.

In the performance, the solo troika of violinist Gabriela Diaz, soprano Kendra Colton, and oboist Peggy Pearson, with the support of a quintet of strings, gave a reflective and committed performance. At the suggestions of Peggy Pearson (for this performance), Chorale Cantata opened with Bach’s harmonization of Luther’s Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir (“From the depths of despair I cry to Thee”) and concludes with Harbison’s harmonization of the same chorale. If the sonorities of a familiar Lutheran Choral lacked gravity when sung by a single soloist, the meanings inherent in the words perhaps gained poignancy as the struggle of an individual with personal despair. The middle sections of the piece were by the contemporary poet, Michael Fried. This reviewer did not consider his words for the Aria and Recitative sections to be quite up to sharing a stage with Martin Luther.

The concert opened with an impassioned performance by cellist Raphael Popper-Keizer and pianist Eliko Akahori of a chestnut — Brahms’ Sonata in F major for Cello and Piano, op. 99. Because of the strange acoustics of the Follen Church, the presenters’ failure to turn on the stage lighting, and the inadequacies of the superannuated piano, the impact of that passion was somewhat vitiated.

The concluding work featured the appearance of a supremely gifted violin prodigy,  twelve-year-old Yuki Beppu, in a performance of J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Oboe, Violin and Strings in c minor BWV 1060. The appearance of Miss Beppu, a student of Joseph Silverstein had aroused great anticipation from an audience which included another great violinist, Peter Zazofsky. Like Miss Beppu he began his studies in early childhood with Joseph Silverstein. Also present to hear and cheer Miss Beppu was Raphael Hillyer, the 95-year-old dean of the Boston chamber music community.

If there were any doubts that the elfin Yuki Beppu could hold her own with the seasoned pros on the Follen Church stage, they were quickly dispelled. This girl is the real thing. Technical qualities, such as steady and powerful bow arm and unerring fingering, she has in abundance. But beyond that she has a natural musicality and singing line which augur for a major career. Each time the oboist Peggy Pearson tossed her a well-turned phrase, Miss Beppu answered with such amazing grace that one felt quite transported.

F. Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Boston Musical Intelligencer.

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