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Americans in Chameleon’s Paris


In a Chameleon Arts Ensemble program entitled “Immortal notes, Parisian air,” pristine Copland and Feldman put the Americans forward. A takeoff on a Debussy piece by England’s Richard Rodney Bennett fell short of the Frenchman’s benchmark, while a mashup of lyrical cello and brilliant piano obfuscated Chopin. Then a Mendelssohn piano quartet began to breathe in the late evening air, which in First Church in Boston was pretty warm. The rather oddly conceived program had some moments, but its pacing left something to be desired. It was 10:20 when the last of the “immortal” notes sounded.

Composed in Paris when Aaron Copland was in his 20s and studying with Nadia Boulanger, Nocturne is rarely heard, and that is one reason why Chameleon’s first concert in a series of four showed promise. Its four pages of 5+3 timing and its bluesy shadowing set their season opener in motion in just the right way. Violinist Jessica Lee and pianist Gloria Chien invoked serenity and an afterglow of nostalgia. With these two musicians, dearness covered the Nocturne’s youthful pages gathering in idioms of the 1920s.

Another new-to-the-ears piece, Bennett’s Sonata after Syrinx, moderated Debussy’s matchless solo for flute. Employing the same instrumentation as that of le musicien français, his Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp tempted further comparisons. Missing in the Bennett was Debussy’s daring. Bennett’s conservative harmonies mostly meandered. Experiencing quotes from Syrinx tarnished the Debussy. Despite Pan in new clothing, Deborah Boldin’s flute worked its own splendid enchantment. Barbara Poeschl-Edrich’s harp radiated warmth and loveliness. Scott Woolweaver’s viola detached itself from flute and harp on account of a slightly abrading bow.

After intermission, Chopin’s Sonata in G Minor for cello and piano, Op. 65 had us hearing the tonal world of the early half of the 19th century. Rafael Popper-Keizer seized on it, returning the older work to his remarkable world of lyricism. He certainly has a way of coaxing our ears into his cello’s warmth. His embrace of the Chopin even rubbed off with all the brilliant pianism surrounding him. What was Chien to do with the hyperactivity of the piano part created by the composer, a master pianist and sometime cellist? The dazzle of the piano versus the spirit of the cello complicated listening.

Morton Feldman to the rescue. “i met heine on the rue fürstenberg” (all lowercase, as it is in Universal Edition score) takes a colorful title, as it should for this most colorful sound sculpture, which is to be played Very Quiet. Mary Mackenzie’s wordless performance—a wonder! Cool, vibrato-free, perfectly tuned to Feldman: could anyone top this? Her high G was pure as could be, and it was quite something to hear, her way of repeating that note three times, the smallest and most touching of vocal articulations further magnetizing our ears to this amazing sonorous world of the New Yorker. Everybody made this a gloriously very quiet sculpture: Boldin, Lee, Popper-Keizer, Chien, clarinetist Gary Gorczyca, and percussionist William Manley. And there was no conductor for this piece with its ever-changing time signatures.

By the time Mendelssohn’s Piano Quartet in B Minor, No. 3 rolled around, it was going on 10 o’clock. The intermission was too long; an announcement that the Sox won, other announcements about upcoming concerts, and about keeping our voices down in order not to disturb a theater production going on nearby—and the overall feeling of a slowly moving show—did not help to keep our attention. Chameleon Arts Ensemble performed admirably. Here, however, the different “voices” of the quartet brought unneeded complications to the listening experience. Furthermore, I just do not understand why this piece and the Chopin were programmed together. Similar textures in both works, along with the highly developed piano writing in contrast to the non-virtuoso string writing, were not mutually flattering.

The program repeated at the Goethe Institute, Sunday at 4 pm.

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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  1. I was at the Sunday Chameleon concert, and thought the playing throughout was rather spectacular. One cannot praise Gloria Chien’s playing enough. Raphael Popper-Keiser continues to astonish. I can’t stand “Syrinx,” but enjoyed the trio, which got a terrific performance.

    Comment by Susan Miron — October 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm

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