in: Reviews

August 1, 2011

Third Generation James Family at Sevenars

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It was the turn of the James Family to take center stage on Sunday afternoon, July 30, at the Sevenars Concerts. Pianist Robelyn Schrade, eldest daughter of the founders Robert and Rolande Young Schrade, and sister of Rorianne who performed last week married New Zealand pianist David James some thirty-three years ago. Their two children are pianist Lynelle James, currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and cellist Christopher James (who also plays piano) a student at Boston University. They performed in various combinations, but the major solo works on the program were given to Lynelle and Christopher, as if the torch is now being passed on to them. Many members of the audience have watched them grow physically and musically since they were small; indeed, some members watched their mother, who served as emcee for the afternoon, and her siblings grow in the same way. The audience was especially quiet during their solos; you could have heard a pin drop.

Lynelle and Christopher – the first names were all that appeared beneath the works – opened with a transcription for cello of Sir Edward Elgar’s Salut d’Amour, Op. 12 (originally composed in 1888 for piano solo, then orchestrated in 1889, and later arranged for violin and piano and many other instrument combinations). Robelyn announced that they dedicated the performance to their grandparents. Christopher then played an arrangement of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Allegro Appassionato in b, Op. 43 (1884), originally for piano and orchestra, with Robelyn at the keyboard, a last-minute substitution for the announced Toccata by Girolamo Frescobaldi. Both the Elgar and Saint-Saëns were played using scores.

Lynelle returned to play from memory Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No. 28 in A, Op. 101 (1816), the first of the composer’s famously difficult and innovative last five. Her performance was outstanding. David also played from memory the Brahms Romanze, Op. 118/5 (of 6, 1892-93), next-to-last of his final four sets of short solo piano compositions, and Chopin’s Scherzo No. 3 in C Sharp, Op. 39 (1839). The Brahms was exquisite. The Chopin was lovely, though a bit too loud for my taste; Chopin was not Liszt, and was a very discreet, restrained performer with few dynamic markings above mezzo forte. He preferred Pleyel instruments, which were much softer than the 1920-era Steinway concert grand used here. Habitués of the Sevenars Concerts were thrilled that David, who had serious health problems, has not lost his touch.

A few words should be said about the venue, which is on the National Register of Historic Properties. The Schrades purchased what had been the Academy at South Worthington in 1976 and repaired and restored it, updating mechanical systems (the concert space is air conditioned). The acoustics are excellent. There are no fewer than six Steinways in the hall. I have never heard four in performances, but they are supposedly maintained in playing condition.

After the break, Christopher opened with J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 5 for unaccompanied cello in c, BWV 1011. He gave a very good reading that made me think that it could be superb if he played with the music in his head and without the score. We were next treated to the arrival of a special guest, NYC TV newscaster Magee Hickey Salembier, Robelyn’s close friend since childhood and an amateur flutist whom Robelyn persuaded to make her very creditable public début in the Sicilienne by Gabriel Fauré, Op. 78 (1893), originally for ’cello and piano. She dedicated it to all amateur musicians in the audience (a wise last-minute substitution for the planned transcription of the Vocalise by Rachmaninoff, because it added another composer to the pleasant mix). Robelyn closed the afternoon with two movements, the first and fourth (last) of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 1, Fantaisie-tableaux, Op. 5 (1893) for two pianos. She took the second piano position to David for the Barcarolle and to Lynelle for Russian Easter, which made for a superbly played rousing finale.

If last week’s more formal recital by Rorianne (the youngest of the five Schrade children) was salon-like, this performance was more like being invited into the James family’s living room. But the relaxed atmosphere, helped along by Robelyn’s outgoing, chatty manner with the listeners, did not signal slacked-off performing. It was a well-played and nicely diversified program by some very special people who consider their listeners very special friends.

A few words should be said about the venue, which is on the National Register of Historic Properties. The Schrades purchased what had been the Academy at South Worthington in 1976 and repaired and restored it, updating mechanical systems (the concert space is air conditioned). There are no fewer than six Steinways in the hall. I have never heard any of these latter four used in performances, but they are supposedly maintained in playing condition.

This is a music festival unlike any other in a very satisfying and good way. Boston area readers visiting western Massachusetts might want to sample this gem, designated by Time in 1980 as one of the six best small music festivals in the nation – I’d guess it has only gotten better with the then little ones now performing on a par with their parents. You can find your way by looking here; you’ll no doubt enjoy the scenery getting there.

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.

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