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French Music and Première at Mohawk Trail Concerts


Most of the offerings at this weekend’s Mohawk Trail Concerts recital were 20th-century French works involving flute and/or harp, solo or in combination with string instruments along with the world première of a new vocal work by area composer Alice Parker, who lives in Hawley and has been associated with this series from its inception some 43 years ago.  The featured musicians hailed from the region and from the Boston and New York City areas.

The recital opened with the sole exception: a set of three of Claude Debussy’s 12 Études for solo piano, L. 136: Nos. 7, Pour les degrés chromatiques, 11, Pour les arpèges composés, and 5, Pour les octaves, from 1915  From their titles, readers can see that these works are not in what has come to be viewed as the composer’s signature “Impressionist” style, but are more pure, abstract music; they were written to be challenging exercises for pianists as well as interesting music, in the lineage of the Études of Chopin, who transformed the exercise into a concert piece, and to whom the work was dedicated, Debussy’s sole composition dedicated to another composer.  In the performance by the Colrain and Washington, DC-based pianist Anne Koscielny, the ultra-bright Steinway worked better for these pieces than for last week’s more stereotypical Debussy offering, and Koscielny delivered a superb concentrated rendering of them, deftly controlling the power and volume of the instrument, without many overtly exuberant gestures, which are always inappropriate for Debussy – and French composers in general.

Further continuing the series’ season-long 150th birthday tribute to Debussy was Christopher Krueger’s rendition of the composer’s Syrinx for solo flute, L. 129, composed in 1913 as part of the incidental music that was never completed for the play Psyché. Krueger related that it was later premièred by Louis Fleury as an from offstage during an interval in a ballet, and then he followed suite, retreating to the fellowship hall adjoining the sanctuary of the Federated Church. Performed thus, forcing the listener’s attention onto the music rather than the performer, it seems less brilliant and ‘in your face’ and more ethereal and reflective, and Krueger’s performance was masterful.  Boston-area readers may be familiar with Krueger’s work with the Handel and Haydn Society, but he resides in Belchertown, and is professor of flute at UMass Amherst, so we get to hear him, in my opinion one of the country’s finest living flautists, in a wider variety of contexts.

The Parker première was up next, taking us to the intermission.  Singing at Dawn for mezzo-soprano, flute, and percussion, a cyclical piece setting seven poems by Colrain poet Carol Purington from her collection of Japanese tanka-form – she also writes haikus – poems: The Trees Bleed Sweetness, was commissioned by Mohawk Trail Concerts.  Purington, who has been confined to bed since the 1955 polio epidemic and does not have the use of her arms, dictates her texts now using voice-recognition computer software. This one imagines the life from birth to death of a pre-colonization Native-American woman.  Parker’s melodies and instrumentation grow organically from the texts, which mention flute and drum, to which she adds a rattle, rain stick, tiny bells, and a high-hat, and support the words and rhythms naturally to produce a magically evocative setting for the tale of the woman’s life.  NYC and NJ-based, Trinidad native mezzo Gail Blache-Gill sang, with Krueger supplying the flute, and recent UMass MM graduate Sharif Mamoun playing the discrete percussion in a profoundly quiet and effective performance that seemed simultaneously primeval and other-worldly.  The performance, musicians, and composer received a well-deserved standing ovation; singers should eagerly await the publication of the piece to be able to program it.

The audience returned from the break for Boston-based, German-born harpist Barbara Poeschl-Edrich’s exquisite rendition of Gabriel Fauré’s 1918 Une châtelaine en sa tour, Op. 110, like Debussy’s Syrinx one of the chestnuts of the solo repertoire for its instrument.  Krueger returned to the stage along with NYC-based violinist/violist Masako Yanagita to join her for a performance of Debussy’s 1915 Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp, L. 137.

Next, the stage was rearranged to accommodate two more musicians: Springfield Symphony violist/violinist and area teacher Ronald Gorevic, who played the latter instrument and Montague-based cellist Mark Fraser, member of the fine Hartford, CT-based Adaskin String Trio, for a performance of André Jolivet’s Chant de Linos for flute, harp, and string trio. Originally composed in 1944 as a Conservatoire contest piece for flute and piano, Jolivet arranged it in 1945 for this more effective instrumentation. Krueger explained that a chant de linos is an ancient Greek threnody or funerary chant involving ritual dance of celebration and sobbing, adding that it is difficult to imagine that the depredations of WW II were not a part of its inspiration.  The piece uses a six-tone scale and some Greek modes to evoke antiquity and varying rhythms to suggest the dancing and wailing.  The performances by both ensembles of both works were simply superb, justifiably eliciting another standing ovation.  The latter work is rarely played, so was especially welcome in this beautifully crafted and outstandingly well executed recital.

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. He is now a Five Colleges Associate based at Smith College in Northampton.

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  1. I’m reading this review the night after the last Friday concert of the season, and just want to say that Artistic Director Ruth Black and her colleagues did themselves more than proud with another short season of brilliant and provocative programming and performing. Each concert packed in an evening’s repertoire that not only was impressive but inspiring to learn more about the composers and artists. Chamber music taken to its finest level, engaging the audience in a true conversation. Each concert this season was dispersed with standing ovations. That says a lot. Bravo, Mohawk Trail Concerts! How lucky we are to have MTC and so many fine artists in our midst. If anyone reads this before tonight’s final concert of Dvorak, Case, Chausson, Griffes, And Dvorak, cancel all other plans, and GO!

    Comment by Connie Clarke — July 28, 2012 at 9:56 am

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