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BAE Lifts Debussy from Everyday Measures


Claude Debussy by Marcel Baschet

Boston Artists Ensemble returned to St. Paul’s Church Sunday, this time with “Pierrot, Mystery, & Romance.” Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, L 140, with cellist and BAE founder Jonathan Miller, immediately lifted off surface-to-air. Along with him, pianist Diane Walsh elevated at higher and still higher heights.  To some ears, Miller’s opening tuning might have been tinged with a bit of lemon. Further into the Prologue, “those lemon-gold arpeggios,” to quote a line from the American poet James Merrill, will have enticed more and still more. Miller and Walsh made Debussy marvelousness through and through.

Miller even claimed breathtaking air pockets aka secondary material or background. The two navigated their airborne iteration through Flamenco pizzicatos and staccatos, feathery pianissimos and astral harmonics. Huge earthbound strokes from both exhilarated even as they drew momentary fear of impending descent into gravity in their closing of the Final: Animé, léger et nerveux. That, though, never came to pass. What flight this Debussy, this musicien français did take!

Lucia Lin also suspended everyday measure with Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, L. 140, and Diane Walsh was right there with her. With the Spanish flares of this sonata, just the right kind of tempered temperament found its way into their completely engaging sonic scene. Their stout perfumery, their high stepping dancing created a rapturous spring air. In the Intermède. Fantasique et léger the duo skittered and teased marvelously. The Final, Très animé, became one thrilling ride through a playground of flirtation and hold-on-to-your-pilot’s seat silences. Flamenco’s “deep” song, foot-stamping, and finger-snapping rebounded in the distance.

And for both the Miller-Walsh and the Lin-Walsh Debussy, Flamenco’s duende (spirit) could very well describe the state of musical ecstasy summoned to St. Paul’s acoustics and ultimately to the listener.

A mystery piece, (guess the composer and win tickets) turned out to be Granados; an entry with Albeniz was “close enough” and took the prize. Duetto from Piano Trio, Opus 50 of Enrique Granados, it turns out, was not only a tough teaser but a plug: “To enjoy more of Granados’ beautiful music, look for our November 2019 program when we will present the rarely-played Granados Piano Quintet in G Minor.”

The brightness of BAE with violinist Tatiana Dimitriades and violist Rebecca Gitter joining others in Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat, Opus 44 became fatiguing. The Allegro brillante exposition sparked a life suddenly with its closing theme. And along with the matter of brightness came the question of personality in this performance. Schumann’s “blossoming love duet encircled and twined through with a warm accompaniment” (from Zoe Kemmerling’s program notes) barely materialized. Miller’s less bright “Paganini-Piatti” Goffriller cello offered warmth, the other strings and piano less so.

BAE formalized the marcia theme of the second movement with big boldness, and projected the following lyrical theme virtually without hope or sunniness. For the Scherzo, BAE’s intense virtuosity bypassed “a playful exchange of scales and trills between the voices.” The mood shifts of the Allegro ma non troppo exhorted castles in lieu of “characteristic lusty rusticism.”

Extraordinary polish in this elite Schumann nevertheless abided.

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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