in: Reviews

October 18, 2011

First Church Boston’s Varied Thursdays

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The Thursday concerts at First Church in Boston are, for the second year, held weekly from 12:15 to 12:45pm. So far they have presented Boston Opera Collaborative, Works in Progress, a harpsichord recital, and American Century Music, among others: a rich and varied fall selection of lively music and fine performers. The season began on September 15th with a recital by mezzo-soprano Anne Byrne with collaborative pianist Nicholas Place. Performing from memory, Byrne offered a German program of songs by Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) and selections from Gustav Mahler’s (1860-1911) Rückert-Lieder. Her lovely voice and clear German diction make her a natural for this repertoire. She undertook a journey through stormy love and artistic angst with the songs “Der Mond hat eine schwere Klag’ erhoben” (“The moon has raised a grave complaint”), “Nun laß uns Frieden schließen” (“Now let us make peace”), “Das verlassene Mägdlein” (“The abandoned maiden”), and “Ich hab in Penna einen Liebston wohnen” (“I have a lover who lives in Penna”). The Rückert-Lieder were represented by “Liebst Du um Schönheit” (“If you love for beauty”), the self-referential “Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder” (“Do not look at my songs!”), and “Ich bin Welt abhanden gekommen” (“I am lost to the world”). My only criticism of this recital was its brevity: it was over at 12:36 pm, leaving me and other members of the audience wanting more.

Lack of substance was not a problem on September 22nd, when performers Akiko Kobayashi, violin, and Claudia Kobayashi, piano, took the stage. Violinist Kobayashi is excellent—top-notch in my experience. She presented a varied program, which began with J. S. Bach’s Sonata No. 4 in c minor, BWV 1017, of which the opening Largo quotes a theme from the Saint Matthew Passion. She was accompanied on piano, with the result that the balance was not as delicate as it might have been—although my objections faded during the rest of the movements. The recital continued with three melodies from Sergei Prokofiev’s (1891-1953) Five Melodies for Violin and Piano, op. 35bis. This was my first hearing of these colorful pieces; I was especially struck by the wild violin solo of the third melody, Allegretto leggero e scherzando. The remainder of the program consisted of a piece by Eugène Ysaye (1858-1931), the D-minor Sonata for Solo Violin No. 3, Op. 27, No. 3, subtitled Ballade, and Pablo de Sarasate’s (1844-1908) Introduction and Tarantella, op. 43. The lightening-quick pizzicato and sheer velocity of the tarantella were most impressive.

Matthew Hall, who played Bach as a substitute last year, was the harpsichord recitalist on October 6th. He performed a piece by Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729), the Suite in d minor from the Second Book, which dates from 1707. Hall has an intriguing background: he studied music and linguistics at Harvard before going on to receive his Master’s in musicology at the University of Leeds in England. The music of Jacquet de la Guerre—this suite was another first hearing for this reviewer—makes use of surprising harmonies. Technically, the recital was virtually note perfect.

On October 13th, the Lydian String Quartet presented John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 2, written in 1987 as a commission from Harvard Musical Association. It was introduced by Scott Parkman, director of American Century Music, a Boston-based concert series which he founded in 2009. It was a pleasure to hear such a masterpiece of contemporary quartet literature. It was constructed in five movements, “Fantasia,” “Concerto,” “Recitative and Aria,” “Sonata,” and “Chorale Fantasia.” “Fantasia” presented first violinist Daniel Stepner solo; he was then joined by violist Mary Ruth Ray and the other excellent musicians, cellist Joshua Gordon and second violinist Judith Eisenberg, in turn. The remaining movements had their own beauties, including slides, dramatic interruptions, brilliant pizzicati, and adventurous harmonies. I look forward to Harbison’s fifth string quartet, which has yet to be released to the public. Many other concerts will follow. Check  BMInt’s “Upcoming Events.”

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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