in: Reviews

July 9, 2012

Whimsy, thin on Emotion, at Monadnock

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Monadnock Music’s 47th season is underway with new management, namely new executive and artistic directors. How’s it looking for one of New England’s preferred summers destinations for classical music? Yesterday afternoon, the Monadnock Players moved into New Hampshire’s Harrisville Community Church for their second of 17 concerts scheduled for 2012.

Virgil Thomson’s music dominated the afternoon at least in terms of the number of pieces played, if not in terms of how much time they all took in the two-hour program. In fact, the music of the quirky American composer and highly touted critic is the centerfold for this Monadnock summer, the reason being that the Kansas City-born, Paris-fashioned and New York City-bound Thomson (1896-1989) did spend time in the Monadnocks. Hmm…

“I don’t care what other critics say, I only hope to be played.” Our readers are, I am quite sure, familiar with this or other oft-quoted one liners of his. I suppose, though, that I could say his Sonata for Flute Alone with its Gaelic allusions seemed, with a little bit of dreaming on the listener’s part, to magnify the attractiveness of this village, its red brick monuments to early American industrialization, and sparking waters which surround the quaint Community Church making it, and the nearby houses and cemetery, an island.

Sarah Brady’s flute may very well have been impersonating Pan’s pipes, as everything she did lent itself to what is natural as well as to what is Thomson music. She gave the Sonata a magnificent summer Sunday sound, taking us into the meaning of the piece’s dry, compact, and brainy ways, while at the same time shining poetry over its major and whole-tone scales, its straightforward, almost childlike, rhythms.

Brady also performed like this in Thomson’s Serenade for Flute and Violin with Charles Dimmick on violin. Dimmick presented Portraits for Violin Alone, eight of them about women we mostly didn’t know and still don’t, after hearing them. Dimmick appeared a bit tense, aiming for  perfection as his ideal. After the first few portraits the titters from the audience seemed to die away as the last of the eight portraits came to a close. (This was the longest, and there were some missed notes in the violin.)

Hardly a seat was left vacant in the mid-19th century white-framed once-Congregational church. Those who came for the afternoon were for the most part churchgoers, townspeople, Monadnock Music followers, and devotees of one or more of Monadnock Players, I was told.

Rafael Popper-Kaiser, “Raffie,” as so many affectionately call him, energized every note through his magic cello playing. He and Brady, who was really getting a workout all afternoon, wowed the summer crowd with five of the Folk Songs from Set No. 9 by the Iranian composer and Persian folksong collector RezaVali. Goodbye Thomson tonality, hello Middle Eastern fare. Both Popper-Kaiser and Brady fired up Persian scales with the cellist singing along to one of them and with Brady on flute, alto flute and piccolo. For me, these were the only emotional fireworks of the day. There was not a lot feeling to feel throughout this program; whimsy, perhaps, a little of this and that, but not much more.

Max Reger’s String Trio No. 2 in A minor felt like a stranger to the village. Emily Rideout was the violist. American composer Dan Welcher, MacDowell Colony Fellow, came over from Peterborough to introduce a work of his, Zephyrus, written in 1990, the year Leonard Bernstein died. A kind of tribute, Zephyrus navigated through sound masses that confounded.

Another informant explained to me that “a list of things” is to be addressed, such as program omissions, errors and other oversights in the season’s booklet. A page of information on the featured composer Thompson might have explained better the “connections” to New Hampshire. Connections? How deep do these connections really go?

Executive Director William J. H. Chapman and Artistic Director Gil Rose began in February putting Monadnock’s 47th summer season together. How wonderful to hear that both newcomers are tuning into their audiences as well as to the “villages and town halls” Monadnock Music will be playing. Let’s see how the rest of the schedule pans out.

David Patterson, professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in  Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.

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