After having authored 213 reviews for BMInt over more than 13 years, I continue to count the Chameleon Arts Ensemble among my favorites. This past Sunday at First Church in Boston, they delighted once again. For the opening of its 26th season, the Chameleons, under the ever-inspiring Deborah Boldin, dispatched an usual assortment of scores (mostly) from the Belle Époque: Lili Boulanger, Eric Moe, Zoltan Kodály, Claude Debussy, and Ernest Chausson.
The excellent established members―pianist Vivian Chang-Freiheit, cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer, clarinetist Kelli O’Connor, flutist Deborah Boldin―all made excellent impressions― no surprise here. Quite a few of the other instrumentalists were new to me, and hearing them offered a real thrill. Boldin, of course, engaged individuals who fit seamlessly into this ensemble, among them, quite a few freshly minted Curtis, Julliard, and Marlboro alums.
Pianist Chang-Freiheit and the superb violinist Francesca DePasquale, who had impressed me the last time I heard her with this ensemble, opened with Nocturne et corte`ge. By Lily Boulanger, the first woman to win the Prix de Rome. Nadia’s sister lived from 1893-1918, a terribly scant 25 years. A foundation in her memory still operates in Cambridge. She wrote these two pieces for violin (or flute) three years apart, not intending them to be a paired, but they work together beautifully. DePasquale impressed with cheerful yet commanding stage presence. She will be on stage for Chameleon again on November 18th and 19th.
Eric Moe’s (b. 1954) Frozen Hours Melt Melodiously Into the Past, commissioned by the Jebediah Foundation New Music Commissions for the Firebird Ensemble, received a spot-on performance by six women: flutist Deborah Boldin (sounding beautiful), Kelli O’Connor (clarinet), Claire Bourg (violins) Caitin Lynch (viola), Sarah Rommel (cello) and Chang-Freiheit (piano). Currently director of Music On the Edge’s new music concert series, Moe also teaches at the University of Pittsburg. His piece leaned heavily on the cello, and Rommel engaged with great heart in this intensely lyrical work. The composer, a pianist and keyboardist, writes that he used vocal music as a point of departure. “A guiding ambition in its composition was for surprising departures and to lead inexorably to surprising returns.” Even without these words, one could join the committed players in finding this piece warmly amusing.
Francesca dePasquale and Sarah Rommel delivered Zoltan Kodály’s (1882-1967) rather well-known and virtuosic Duo for violin and cello, Op. 7 (1914) quite spectacularly. Both players worked at the tops of their games and gave captivating accounts of the three powerfully expressive movements. Bartók, who did years of field research on Hungarian folk music with him, said Kodaly was “the most perfect embodiment of the Hungarian spirit. In 1925 Kodaly wrote that his intention “has not been to break with the past, but to renew and strengthen the links by recreating the atmosphere of the ancient, forgotten melodies, but erecting new structures from their scattered stones. These old songs are our heirlooms: their creators, long since silent, are our true ancestors.”
No one has ever complained about a Chameleon concert being too brief. After intermission, the wonderful soprano Deborah Selig and pianist Chang-Freiheit gave a stunning account of Debussy’s (1862-1918) gorgeous Trois poems de Stéphane Mallarmé. What a beautiful voice! What beautiful songs! And what fine collaboration!
Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) is best known for his Poème for violin and orchestra; I would wager few know of his passionate and lyrical Piano Quartet the wildly gifted group: pianist Alice Chenyang Xu, violinist Claire Bourg, violist Caitlin Lynch, and Boston’s own widely beloved cellist, Rafael Popper-Keizer brought off with tremendous verve. Caitlin Lynch produced a big, lush sound and splendid advocacy, but you can’t do this piece without a fabulous pianist, and Alice Chenyang Xu filled the bill. She had a most challenging role in this quartet, and she dispatched it most impressively.
Finally, I want to acknowledge Gabriel Rice’s always enjoyable program notes. Over 26 years, this indispensable man has doubled (or tripled) as stagehand and ticket taker. His essays are smart, beautifully written, helpfully informative., and accessible. He manages this for every Chameleon concert. Those of us who write about music have a lot to learn from him about writing concisely yet elegantly.
Chameleon returns to First Church Boston on Nov. 18th and 19th with Puccini and Rachmaninoff alongside more contemporary works.