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Sarasa—Reflecting Well


François Couperin

In addition to giving well-received concerts, Sarasa Chamber Music Ensemble, has, since its founding in 1997, reached out to incarcerated youth. “Sarasa,” the name adopted by cellist Timothy Merton and colleagues for their socially conscious chamber music and vocal collective of over 150 individuals, reflects the elision of Saraswathi, the name for the Hindu goddess of art and culture, and the Sanskrit word rasa—an essence of sound.

Seven excellent instrumentalists lustrously collaborated in Cambridge at the Friends Meeting House on Saturday (the performance reviewed here) and in Lexington at the First Parish Church on Sunday in their last program of the year, “Mirrors,” which began with an unofficial celebration of the 350th anniversary of the birth of the prolific keyboardist and composer, François Couperin. The appellation Couperin le Grand acknowledges his status as the most accomplished of a well-known family of Baroque composers. Christina Day Martinson (violin), Haldan Martinson (Violin), Jennifer Morsches (cello), with Rip Jackson (harpsichord), enthusiastically brought forth one of several works that constitute Les Nations—the Piémontaise, or L’Astrée (Italian), in G Minor. Other pieces in the set include Sonades with international themes—La Pucelle (French), La Visionnaire (Spanish), and L’Imperiale (German), as well as Ordres, a collection of dances.

The Martinsons (Christina as first and Haldan as second violin), the violist Jenny Stirling, and cellist Morsches then deftly delivered Haydn’s Quartet in F Major Op. 17 No. 2, from 1769-71, when such works were still called divertimenti a quattro. The first movement opens with an exquisite melody for the violin, likely intended for the renowned violinist Luigi Tomasini, who was the leader at Esterhazy at that time. The work requires the light, pure, unwavering touch that Christina produced.

After intermission harpsichordist Rip Jackson played Couperin’s short Les barricades mystérieuses from 6e ordre de clavecin, which is replete with refreshing harmonies, unusual for the era. As Jackson noted, the meaning of the term “barricades” has elusive, enabling various interpreters the luxury of exercising imagination. Jackson’s facility reminded us that Couperin, a superb performer, focused on the harpsichord, eventually writing a still-in-use manual, L’Art de Toucher le Clavecin. That Jackson is also a baroque dancer and choreographer no doubt facilitated his joyful and agile reading.

Brahms wrote the oft-heard Sextet in B-flat Major Op. 18, No. 1 when he was 27 years old, by which time he had clearly announced both in writing and in habit that he was rooted in the classical tradition. Before he published this sextet, Brahms played it for Clara Schumann, who convinced him to create a piano arrangement of the second movement, a theme and variations. If it were not so achingly beautiful, this sextet could be considered a “war horse.” Exploiting the deep sonorities inherent to the form, Brahms balanced the two cello lines creating quiet passion, enhanced by the two violas. Haldan Martinson, the distinguished chair of the second violin section of the BSO, brought a fine assurance to the role of first. Christina Day Martinson, violin; Stirling and Marka Gustavsson, violas; and Merton and Morsches (cellos) added an incisive radiance to the very satisfying reading.

As one has come to expect, Sarasa mirrored not only music history but also their own history of careful, nuanced programming and delightful performance.

Julie Ingelfinger, a nearly life-long Cantabrigian, is a classically-trained pianist and congenital music lover. She enjoys day jobs as professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, pediatric nephrologist at Mass General Hospital for Children and deputy editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.

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