in: Reviews

November 17, 2010

Unusual Beethoven at Emmanuel

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Emmanuel Music presented their second Beethoven chamber series at Emmanuel Church on Sunday afternoon, November 14. In the words of Artistic Director Ryan Turner, this series is “somewhat chronological” and ended with the “recreational” Beethoven, selections from the Scottish songs, op. 108.

Eight Songs, op. 52, was sung by baritone Sumner Thompson with the collaboration of Michael Beattie on piano. Thompson has an ideal voice for this repertoire and his German is good. I only heard only one word mispronounced. Mostly about love and death, the strophic songs are by various poets, including Goethe, and the comic eighth song, “Urians Reise um die Welt” features soprano Susan Consoli and tenor Ryan Turner singing the refrain from the audience. The first song, “Feuerfarbe,” is particularly effective. It’s all about a color “nobler than silver and gold” (in Pamela Dellal’s translation) “And I call it the ‘Color of Truth.’” The second Goethe song, “Marmotte,” is sung in German and French and features a small, furry animal, the marmot.

The Piano Trio No. 2 in G Major, op. 1, featuring violist Heather Braun, cellist Rafael Popper-Keiser, and pianist Randall Hodgkinson, is not as familiar as the first piano trio but contains many Beethovenisms, including twists and turns and beautiful melodies, especially in the slow movement. The players in the first movement, marked Adagio. Allegro vivace, effectuated a nice transition between tempi. The finale had a lively theme in the form of a trill that the players all did superbly in turn.

After intermission came the strangest piece I’ve ever heard from Beethoven, String Trio No. 2 “Serenade” in D Major, op. 8. Here Braun and Popper-Keiser were joined by violist Mary Ruth (UV) Ray. It’s mostly homophonic, and does not sound as if it is by Beethoven. Unison violin and viola play the sad Adagio. Scherzo theme over an independent cello line.

About the Scottish songs that came next, I wish I could have heard all twenty-five, so good it was. All the musicians were involved, the vocalists singing separate verses, joining together in the various refrains. The folksongs were commissioned by James Thomson, a wealthy Edinburghian, who hired some of Europe’s most famous composers, including the up-and-coming Beethoven. Turner quoted from a sly Beethoven that Haydn “was paid one pound sterling for each song.”

First up was “Music, love and wine,” in which the vocalists traded verses that ended with the line “What say you?” Then Consoli sang a sad song, “The sweetest lad was Jamie,” in which the strings continued their pizzicato contributions. Then Thompson sang two songs, the second of which is by the great Robert Burns. Consoli joined Thompson for yet another Burns poem, “Behold my love how green the groves,” characterized by a particularly excellent tune. Turner sang another song by William Smyth and then joined his vocalists for another Smyth poem, “Come fill, fill, my good fellow.”

The series continues next with two concerts on February 13th and 27th.

Larry Phillips studied music at Harvard, the Montreal Conservatory, and at New England Conservatory. In 1974 he was a prizewinner at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.

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