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Overview of First Church Concerts


The Thursday noon recitals at First Church in Boston have been on a very high level, presenting many excellent singers, recitalists, and chamber groups. But it pains me to say that one pianist came a cropper. I refer to Patrice Newman, who presented an ambitious program on Oct. 27, two scherzos from Chopin. She gave an over-pedaled and under-memorized recital.

Now to the good things. On Oct. 20 we had a treat: Ukrainian coloratura soprano Olga Lisovkaya and collaborative pianist Boris Fogel. Her title was “Songs My Mother Taught Me.” Wearing Ukrainian garb, she offered seven folk and opera songs which she grew up hearing. Rain, she told us, was her mother’s favorite; and Oh, do not shine, moon was very popular in Ukraine. It was quite a performance.  Even a memory lapse in the last folk song did not faze her.

On Nov. 3, the church presented Italian harpsichordist Giuseppe Schinaia, currently tenured professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Rome (“La Sapienza”). He organized a program of Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667), Jean-Henri d’Anglebert (1629-1691), and Jacques Duphly (1715-1789.) The Froberger was a sad piece, Lamentation faite sur la mort très douloureuse de Sa Majesté imperiale, Ferdinand le troisième.

He inserted a short prélude non mésuré before the regular pieces, a Chaconne in C Major from the Pièces manuscript, and Tombeau de M. de Chambonnières. The prelude was played on the main keyboard, the lower 8’, whereas the chaconne was played on coupled keyboards. D’Anglebert really knows how to make the harpsichord sound. Duphly was represented by his Chaconne in F Major (from 3me Livre de Pièces de clavecin), also played on coupled keyboards.

I learned of a new composer on Nov. 10: Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946.) As a warm-up for their subsequent Harvard Musical Association concert The Claremont Trio — twin sisters violinist Emily Bruskin and cellist Julia Bruskin with pianist Donna Kwong, offered the Piano Trio in D Major, op. 56, which dates from 1913. The opening movement beginning with a bang contains a lovely cello solo with piano. The Andante Cantabile movement had an exquisite melody and nice dialoguing at the beginning. The finale had a nice tribute to Debussy.

Mezzo-soprano Renée Hites and pianist Yukiko Oba performed on Nov. 17 in a program called “Songs of the Americas,” many of which represented a “first hearing” for me. Songs from Colombia, the United States, Argentina, and Brazil were represented. Hites has a gorgeous voice and her Spanish diction was impeccable. First up were two songs by Luis Calvo (1882-1945): Gitana and En la Playa. Then came four songs by Samuel Barber (1910-1981), drawn from his Hermit Songs, ten in number, that deal with the period between the eight and thirteenth centuries. The Crucifixion is familiar, whereas I had never heard before The Monk and his Cat.

Argentina was represented by four songs composed by Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) and Carlos Guasavino (1912-2000.) The final composer was Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), in two songs. The final syllable of “Mando, Tiro, Tiro, Lá” was like an extensive riff.

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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