Violinist Gabriella Diaz and clarinetist Rane Moore debuted Sunday night as co-music directors of Winsor Music, where a full house of enthusiastic listeners in Brookline’s St. Paul’s Church enjoyed an evening that felt, in its intimacy and informality—like a Hauskonzert, but one in which the musicians were all world-class. Since founded in 1996 by oboist Peggy Pearson, the Winsor Music Chamber Series has presented world or Boston premieres of over 30 works, done a great deal of outreach, and is currently playing once a month in Beth Israel Hospital.
Pearson, a star-among-stars of this excellent ensemble, began with her own deft arrangement for oboe and three strings (Gabriella Diaz, violist Mark Berger, and cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer) of a Bach Prelude and Fugue in E Major from books one (BWV 854) and two (BWV 878) of the Well-Tempered Klavier. It sounded superb, although Bach seems to work for any permutation of instruments. The melody sounded very idiomatic on oboe. Nice!
Actually written for Pearson, James Primosch’s (b. 1956) Quintet for Oboe, Strings and Piano gave me a very welcome opportunity to hear pianist Sally Pinkas. Commissioned by Winsor Music, it received its world premiere in Maryland last June. The composer, sitting next to John Harbison, took to the stage and talked about his piece, whose third movement is based on Kathleen Norris’s poem, “Who Do You Say That I Am?” which is asked a number of times in the New Testament.
Primosch described his piece:
The variations of the first movement of my Quintet are not a melody but on a chord progression first proposed by the strings and piano. Four variations and a coda follow, increasingly rapid in their surface. Next come two slow movements, the first very dark, marked “wailing” at its climax; the second consoling, inspired by a poem by Kathleen Norris… that offers increasing ecstatic responses to the Biblical question. The finale opens with a raucous call to attention, and the various dances that follow are sometimes bluesy and sometimes folk-like. Late in the game, some fragments of the previous movements unexpectedly return, and what was left open at the end of the first movement now finds affirmation. Peggy Pearson granted me a third opportunity to write for her profoundly eloquent oboe. I am deeply grateful.
The all-star line-up made a most convincing case.
John Harbison’s Foxtrot for Chamber Ensemble from The Great Gatsby received a snazzy take in a clever arrangement by Diaz, who spoke of remembering this piece vividly from her childhood, and just adoring it. With the composer’s permission, she created a really enjoyable version which gave Rane Moore a chance to dazzle on both clarinet and soprano saxophone. Moore’s in-program biography was impressive, indeed, but hearing her in this piece blew me (sorry, wind players) away. Wow! Mike Williams was the percussionist.
Song for the Spirit: “Let Me Not Mar That Perfect Dream” by Harbison, came as the tenth entry in Winsor Music’s ongoing project of commissioning chorales to be given by its musicians and then taught to the audience. All are intended to be part of a collection of hymns on the themes of tolerance, peace and unity. Soprano Kendra Kolton, whom I enjoyed for the second time in a week (she sang Bach with Music for Food) sang the two stanza poem by Emily Dickinson, first with just piano, then with violin and piano. As what preceded it, it provided a very moving antidote to dark times shared around-the-campfire way.
Diaz admitted (to the audience) that she chose Dvořák’s own arrangements of his Silent Woods and his famous Slavonic Dance, Op. 46, No. 8 as a tribute to Boston’s beloved cellist Raphael Popper-Keizer, who partnered with Pinkas. While I deeply admire both musicians, and have raved about Popper-Keizer at least a dozen times in these pages, this arrangement, pared down from its utterly dazzling orchestral version, did no real favors to the piece. This said, the duo played both pieces evocatively and very beautifully.
Most concerts would have wound up by now, but Winsor saved its (perhaps) best for last—one of the most popular 20th-century pieces of chamber music—Bartók’s three-movement Contrasts for violin, clarinet, and piano, written for violinist Josef Szigeti, and the famed jazz clarinetist, Benny Goodman. The first version of the work, titled Rhapsody, received its premiere in 1939 at Carnegie Hall, with Szigeti, Goodman, and pianist Endre Petri. Bartók subsequently added a middle movement and adopted the title Contrasts. Szigeti, Goodman and Bartók first performed the final, three-movement work at Carnegie Hall in 1940, and recorded it for Columbia. Bartók published the work in 1942 and dedicated it to Szigeti and Goodman. It’s a real crowd-wower. The three Winsor women gave it as good as it gets.
The extraordinary concert almost left this reviewer speechless, until she discovered the delicious brownies in the post-concert reception. Winsor even baked brilliant brownies!
Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. She writes about classical music and books for The Arts Fuse. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.