In recent years the spotlight on new composers has brightened, while it also has on performers new to many Boston audiences thanks, in particular, to Sarasa Chamber Music Ensemble. “Take Four! Music for Cello Quartet” featured cellists of different persuasions curiously melding in covers from Josquin des Prez to Dave Brubeck. Jake Charkey comes with a background in Western and Hindustani music. Myron Lutzke is versed in both modern and period instruments. Timothy Merton continues performing before audiences worldwide, and Jennifer Morsches doubles as continuo cellist and chamber music collaborator.
From time to time, moments of pure cello presence awakened expectations of a feast for lovers of that instrument. Yet, a somewhat small audience in the Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church allowed for more resonance than was needed for four cellos. Where Fauré’s Pavane fared well with one half of the quartet bowing and the other half plucking, Après an Rêve eventually succumbed to the weight of the four bows. A matchless duet of Lutzke and Merton above a perfectly complementary underpinning of Morsches and Charkey made for a most beautifully transparent recast of Pavane. The transformation of the pristine piano accompaniment of Fauré’s song, though, increasingly dimmed and finally darkened in this instrumental arrangement.
That it was difficult for some to make out every spoken word from Morsches and Charkey might suggest that Sarasa’s team of cellists may also have forgotten to take the sanctuary’s space into account. As to playing, remember that the lower the pitches go, the longer the wave forms they make, meaning the two travel farther than those emitted from smaller instruments. Adjustments for their robust delivery could have helped considerably. To finish the concert, the four rendered “Moon River” the final cadence a near whisper in contrast to their big delivery which dominated the evening.
It somehow made sense to sandwich Josquin des Prez in between the Fauré, the reserve and conciseness shared by the two. “Take Four” eschewed reserve in Entré, je suis en grant pensé as it would in J. S Bach’s Ebarme dich mein, O Herre Gott. After opening each piece with an ear to musical interiors, among them contrapuntal webs, swells of sound, sometimes a yank of the bow sent Josquin and Bach into a Sarasa-sphere, giving pause to what one would expect from collective as experienced as this.
Another welcome move had a trio droning away in a kind of unison which in turn opened up space for Jake Charkey’s melodic “Alaap.” He explained that “an alaap is the unmetered and improvised introduction of a raga, which is usually played before the entry of the tabla.” Charkey created an emotional environment through unusual fingering that would first slightly slide from under the note then slide generously upward to the next note. The directness and naturalness abounding in Charkey’s playing brought about sunlight and refreshment to Sarasa’s four-of-a-kind.
An informative note from Morsches reads: “Friedrich Grützmacher (1832-1903) was a famous German cellist and pedagogue, who added considerably to the cellist’s repertoire with his many transcriptions of famous works. His sumptuous adaptation of Feierliches Zug zum Münster (Procession to the Cathedral) from Act II, scene iv Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) famous opera Lohengrin (1850) is a highly successful representation of Wagner’s intense and rich musical language.” A peep at the Wedding March we all know so well appeared in a performance by Sarasa affirming Grützmacher’s adept cover for cellos.
Beethoven’s Scena al Ruscello from his Pastoral Symphony arranged for four cellos by Peter Lichtenthal either did not muster watery forces or else Sarasa’s foursome might have muddied the stream by overplaying. The arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “Tritonis” by Grammy award-winning cellist Eugene Friesen lifted that work out of its shameless pianism. The fearless foursome angled Friesen’s cello-ology in high spirits and with supreme verve.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Sarasa Chamber Music Ensemble is a performing collective of more than 100 instrumentalists and singers, presenting music spanning the 17th to the 21st centuries, on both period and modern instruments.