IN: Reviews

Gramercy Close Up


Immediately recognizable through its venerable members, Sharan Leventhal, Jonathan Miller, and Randall Hodgkinson, Gramercy Trio tendered short and French at the Community Music Center of Boston to honor David Lapin, who is retiring after 34 years as executive director. Saint-Saëns and Fauré trios gleamed with consequence in the cozy Allen Hall.

When was the last time Boston Musical Intelligencer readers, especially those curieux, strolled into the South End to CMCB? For me, after far too long an interlude from the Center, it came as something of a revelation. Faculty and Concert Coordinator Stephen Yenger shed light on the neighborhood music magnet (still as friendly as remembered) before the music got underway.  He told how the Center, now in its 107th year, administered $300,000 to the city’s young who are unable to afford music instruction.

Named in memory of the former Music Center Board President and student, the John Kleshinski Concert Series continued with Gramercy’s “French Connection,” free and open to the public as all concerts in the series.

A square space with such features as a ceiling with partially exposed red bricks, a wall covered with a reddish theater-esque curtain, and seating for some 50 or so, Allen Hall satisfies with acoustics and sightlines generously suitable for close up action.

Gramercy Trio is CMCB Artists in Residence that has been made possible through a grant from the Fassino Foundation that affords both mentoring and concertizing. “French Connection” explained: “Connection and influences between teachers and students among French composers. Fauré, Saint-Säens and Nadia Boulanger are among the great teachers whose works would be performed.”

Aa a former student of Mademoiselle who has rarely heard her music performed live, my expectation of hearing something of hers channeled me to the South End. But no Boulanger was to be heard. And the “French Connection” appellation… is that not by now cliché? Disappointed, yes, somewhat, though Gramercy Trio, turned that around.

“Well-balanced” was one of the few descriptive words from pianist Randall Hodgkinson prefacing Trio No. 1 in F Major, Op. 18 of Camille Saint-Saëns. If there were one thing upon which Mademoiselle and Saint-Saëns would agree, it would be the importance of form—above all, the ultimate achievement in composition, even beyond expression.

Gabriel Fauré

Taking the pianist’s valuation another way, Gramercy could not have been better balanced. Often, Hodgkinson miraculously wove piano timbres into multihued string comportment. And along with Leventhal and Miller, the three spoke opulently of form and rendered the Beethovenisms in the late 19th century Frenchman’s Trio with exquisitely clear-cut, pinpoint expression everywhere. Smiles from the performers during the Saint-Saëns Scherzo said much, as they also would in the Allegro vivo of the Trio in D Minor, Op. 120 of Gabriel Fauré.

“Intricate” noted Hodgkinson of Nadia Boulanger’s teacher’s late work. Gramercy’s three wrapped themselves into one this time weaving the uncommon lattices of Fauré’s counterpoint astutely and lovingly.

Being figuratively within arm’s length of these three seasoned players, whether their playing was of the most tempting delicacy or most sumptuous roundness, all was most enticingly cherish-able.   

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.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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