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Sunflower Musicians Play for Ukraine

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Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel in 1842

A dedicated group of musicians, several of whom teach at the Rivers Conservatory, gave a second benefit concert at the Framingham Public Library on Sunday for Sunflower of Peace, a Cambridge-based organization aiding Ukraine. Some elements overlapped between this concert and the first benefit, held April 23rd, and reviewed HERE. This review only mentions selections not previously reviewed. Konstantin Starikov’s readings in Ukrainian connected the musical works.

The Ukrainian National Anthem preceded flutist Arielle Burke’s and guitarist Catherine O’Kelly’s performance of the “Siciliano” from Sonatina for Flute and Guitar, op. 205 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968). Opening in a dotted rhythm, it recalls the Siciliano from Bach’s E-flat major flute sonata. There is even a key relationship: Bach’s being in g minor, the relative minor of the dominant of E-flat major, the key Tedesco chose. Both compositions alternate the dotted-eighth-note motif with scales and arpeggios. Tedesco, of course, writing for a modern instrument allows expansiveness and virtuosity. Tedesco also treats the instruments equally, trading tunes and alternating the roles of soloist and accompanist. The mood is one of melancholy. It ends in descending arpeggios and a recall of the dotted-eight-note motif. The two artists suavely balanced their changing roles.

Jean Marie Leclair brought the Italian school of violin playing to France, serving in the court of Louis XV between 1733 and 1737. His Trio Sonata in D Minor op 4 no 1 has all the hallmarks of its era: imitative polyphony, sequences of short motivic fragments, themes based on repeated notes, syncopation, and impetuous mood changes. The harmonic language is bold. Olga Kradenova, violin, Jenae Starikov, violin; and Zoya Shereshkova, cello relished the rapid key changes (d minor to A major in two measures) which closed Movement 1, an Adagio. They took a slight ritard and played each chord piano or pianissimo. The edginess of movement 2, Allegro ma non troppo, brings Vivaldi’s “Spring” from the Four Seasons to mind. The first 12 measures of the third movement, Largo, consist of an eight-measure chord progression followed by four measures of melodic material that ends on the dominant. This pattern is followed throughout the movement, each time ending in more far-flung keys. Movement IV, an Allegro, begins and ends in D minor, restoring tonal equilibrium to this tightly structured trio sonata. Through the precise and joyful traversal, only the failure of violin1 to adjust her dominance to allow for an equal partnership, proved troublesome.

Deborah Yardley Beers, piano, offered July from Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s Das Jahr, a set of 12 character pieces each representing a month of the year which Hensel gave to her husband Wilhelm for Christmas 1841. The bound edition left space for him to provide an illustration for each song. Fanny chose an introductory poem for each piece.  The illustrations and text point to the programmatic intent of the composer.  Fanny communicates July’s insufferable heat musically with a descending fifth (a sigh) succeeded by a descending chromatic line. The first four bars form the kernel of a 16-measure intro that makes a complete statement. A subsequent tumultuous chordal section is followed by variations on the initial statement. July concludes in the descending chromatic line played pianissimo. An exquisite character piece, it evokes sorrow and languor, and makes for a good, though not exclusive musical metaphor for mid summer’s idle moments. Yardley Beers gave a heartfelt rendition strong on color and dynamic variation.

Pianist Soomi Lee, piano closed with the Liszt transcription of Widmung (Dedication), the opening song in the cycle Myrten, which Robert Schumann dedicated to Clara Wieck as a wedding gift. Liszt’s elaboration of the soaring theme makes the most of the piano’s strengths. After the right hand plays the theme twice, the left takes it over with increasingly virtuosic gestures. Liszt retains Schumann’s dotted rhythm throughout. A chordal middle section in E major, present in both versions, introduces tranquility and peace. At the close, Liszt brings the keyboard virtuosity to another level, presumably as his way of expressing passion. He closes with a fragment of the original theme played twice. Soomi Lee’s clean execution and subtle voicing kept the listener fully aware of the many simultaneous elements. The love and faith so earnestly expressed in Widmung fittingly closed this benefit for Ukraine’s survival.

Retired medical biology researcher Dinah Bodkin is a serious amateur pianist and mother of Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin.

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