For Chameleon Arts Ensemble’s “A Legacy of Fearless Song” at First & Second Church Boston, I sat near the center of the 60-ft.-long sanctuary, but the acoustics sound very good almost anywhere. Three of the five composers artistic Director Deb Boldin chose were familiar names, as were five of the featured players—all members of the Boston music scene for years. However, all the music in this program was new to me, and I suspect, to many in the audience. Chameleon is one of Boston’s long-standing smaller groups that brings such compositions to our notice. More power to them. Boldin always carefully curates to fulfill a theme. And it works.
All the compositions summoned quite strong emotions, at times, dirge-like, and the interpretations reached aggressive and unstinting levels. The Adagio con molto sentimento d’affetto second movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5 in D Major for Piano and Cello certainly had those qualities, but the surrounding Allegro movements, in the hands of Joshua Gordon (cello) and Vivian Chang-Freiheit (piano) brought us the unclouded pleasures of delight in speed.
The lento of Pavel Haas’s String Quartet No. 3 (1938) also dug deep into the well of emotion. Robyn Bollinger and Stephanie Zyzak (violins), Scott Woolweaver (viola), and Sarah Rommel (cello) put it across with such great devotion that it’s hard to understand why the Nazis considered it degenerate. Each of the four players had their own melody; these complemented and followed each other in a marvelous build-up of tonalities.
After intermission, again, were three intensely emotional pieces. Shen Yiwen’s Guo Shang: Hymn to the Fallen for flute, clarinet, violin, and cello lasts for seven intense minutes. Deborah Bolden (flute), Gary Gorczyka (clarinet), Zyzak and Gordon, and Chang-Freiheit, brought almost white-hot intensity to the young Chinese composer’s 2008 lamentation. It sounded dark, ominous and sometimes horrific enough to shake the house.
Arvo Pärt’s first published his well-known tintinnabular and minimalist Spiegel im Spiegel in 1978 for violin and piano. Now it is for piano and “violin or any other melody instrument;” in this case, clarinetist Gary Gorczyka, who, in his collaboration with pianist Mika Sasaki, impressed tremendously, but the cast of players Boldin can summon to concert after concert simply amazes me.
The fourth movement of the Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, which uses a Jewish folk-dance tune, often appears at concerts as a testament to its horrific reflections on World War Two and the siege of Leningrad. It was the final offering of the evening. The players here employed consisted of Bollinger, Rommel, and Sasaki.
We look forward to Chameleon’s Small Series for March & May, though the content remains in-the-works. And I was grateful for Boston’s Subway & Bus Shuttle for saving me anywhere from $5.65 to perhaps $35.65 on parking at the area’s indoor garages!