IN: Reviews

Gloriously Rocking Chameleon


Arthur Benjamin

Chameleon Arts Ensemble’s “Slow Dreams of Eternity” at First Church of Boston on Sunday well and truly justified my agony over finding a place to park in the Back Bay.

Le Tombeau de Ravel “Valses-caprices” for clarinet and piano by Arthur Benjamin, intriguingly rhythmic and fun, and neither too profound nor overly light in content, provided several mood changes. The free-spirited writing suffered no restraints from the history of music, but rather freely channeled the communication of music. The impressionistic French influence, notably in the title and texture, as well as the writing of the valse element gave much character to the work. Pianist Mika Sasaki and clarinetist Kelli O’Connor, who ranged brilliantly through all her instrument’s registers, both fully exploited Benjamin’s brilliant writing for their instruments.

Helen Grime’s Luna, a sextet written for flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, piano and percussion, included interesting percussive trios and duets between the players, with notable soloistic elements for the French horn. The woodwinds and piano frequently found percussive modes, with a delicately played triangle voiced like the high notes on the keyboard. We heard an amazing conglomeration of sound and colors.

Often the flute, clarinet and oboe trio block contrasted the legato line of the French horn. A flute and clarinet duet had disparate intervals, like a pianist reaching for both ends of the keyboard. Inspired by Ted Hughes’s poem “Harvest Moon,” the piece ends and dissolves as the moon sets. The dynamic control of this ending proved stunning.

The song cycle La chanson d’ Eve, Op. 95, for soprano and piano, by Fauré made for an excellent choice; Artistic Director (and flutist) Deborah Boldin’s programming always strongly informs Chameleon concerts. However, soprano Mary Mackenzie’s enunciation and voice quality did not do justice to the beauty and impressionistic writing. The depiction for “the eternal ocean” by pianist Vivian Chang-Freiheit showed particular power. James Day’s extremely well-done translations from the French poetry of Charles van Leberghe deserve a callout.

Boldin dedicated the concert to the Dutch composer Theo Verbey, who died in October. His Four preludes to Infinity for oboe, violin, viola and cello came right after intermission. Each prelude recalls and recognizes the music of former times and celebrates its perpetual existence: “Mysterious” — the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern; “Restless” —  the Russian avant-garde Prokofiev and Shostakovich, depicted with incessant motion; “Religious” —  the German Baroque Bach, Handel and Telemann, with rich tonalities and liturgical sounds; and “Luminous” — the French Impressionism of Debussy, Ravel and Dukas. The exceptional ensemble of Nancy Dimock, oboe; Francesca DePasquale, violin; Caitlyn Lynch, viola; and Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello; executed to perfection.

Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 47, probably the most familiar work of the concert, closed the amazing afternoon magnificently. Pianist Mika Sasaki joined DePasquale, Lynch, and Popper-Keizer, and all fully committed themselves to the magic and excitement of the quintet. After an exquisite opening, we were off to a rollicking performance demonstrating high energy in contrast to the tranquil moments. The tempo of the Scherzo outdid Mendelssohn! Rafael Popper-Keizer set a beautiful mood for the unbearably poignant, breath-holding themes that pervade this movement, which each soloist subsequently spun out so eloquently. The balance of the voicing in the fugue in the Finale could have been more even if the violist had turned out to the audience a little more (a perennial viola issue!). However, who will ever forget the glorious climax?

Gwendoline Thornblade has played viola with many Boston area music groups. She founded the Suzuki School of Newton and is currently the conductor of the Newton Senior Center Chamber Ensemble.

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