IN: Reviews

BAE: “Worlds Apart”

by

Fauré (Fogg Art Museum)

Sharan Leventhal, Thomas Martin, Randall Hodgkinson, and Jonathan Miller at St. Paul’s Church in Brookline Sunday afternoon lifted into “Worlds Apart” with two unmistakable personalities, Fauré and Messiaen, both adventurous, both colorists, one subtle, one bold. The time-tested French oeuvres and the proved Boston Artists Ensemble fully reawakened musical sensibility. Casting Piano Trio in D Minor and Quartet for the End of Time made obvious the ever-quickening modernization of the arts in the early half of the 20th century. BAE’s unequal effectiveness also reflected its concert theme with the performance of Fauré, a bit troubling, and that of Messiaen, superb.

Marc Mandel’s notes thoughtfully recall Aaron Copland’s 1924 essay, “Gabriel Fauré, a Neglected Master.” Even during Wednesday afternoon class meetings in the mid-1960s, Nadia Boulanger occasionally mentioned her Paris Conservatory teacher, prophesying widespread recognition of Fauré. Credit BAE in part. The composer’s Op. 120 continues to be one of his most often played chamber pieces, one reason being its touching Andantino.

One hundred years after Boulanger’s most famous student (Copland) heard it, BAE’s take on Gabriel Fauré bucked up against this sanctuary’s far-too-live a space, packed as it was, and an off-voiced  piano thwarted the eloquent, the mature, the erudite Parisian. From the start, the piano hovered over the strings. Even sitting in the very back row did little to lessen a noticeable imbalance. In time, the trio playing evened out, revealing more of BAE’s extroverted approach, one favoring a sense of urgency.

Could it be that the smooth melodiousness of Fauré the organist and Catholic might have some connection to chanting, the old songs of that church? If so, the ever-lengthening lines of the Allegro, ma non troppo, as taken by the trio, could have shown less exertion or intent. One of Fauré’s most entrancing rise-and-fall sequences of tones which opens the second movement, the Andantino, often is described as a lovely serene melody. BAE may not have been thinking otherwise, however, the instrumental exchanges again felt somewhat like limbs rather than like tendrils.

With this trio endeavoring to bring the allegro vivo to a real finish with real gusto, as it did, an astonishing effect came about, the movement given real meaning, very rare among the many, many interpretations. 

Messiaen’s mix of new musical and rhythmic modes opening up to world cultures has also found a remarkable listenership. If for a while, Fauré remained unheard on account of his being “erudite”; Messiaen, as intellectually strong, was not seen in that light, perhaps given the immediacy of his music.  

Quartet for the End of Time for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano 1940-41 comes with the composer’s dedication “in homage to the Angel of the Apocalypse, who raises his hand towards Heaven saying ‘There shall be no more time.’” An unquestionably venerated work of the 20th century, particularly in hands of the four Boston artists, just about everything you could ask for—and more—came to us supremely in both space and time. Messiaen’s fauvism-like strong colors and open brushwork was just right from BAE.

Randall Hodgkinson has performed with orchestras including those of Philadelphia, Atlanta, Albany, Buffalo, Westchester, Oakland and Caramoor, recorded for Nonesuch, CRI and New World labels, and is a member of the New England Conservatory faculty. His cascades of color chords at the very start of Messiaen’s opening movement, Liturgy of Crystal, came with extraordinary touch, the keys of the church’s piano having forgotten they had hammers.

Thomas Martin who joined the BSO in 1984 and now serves as associate principal clarinet and is also principle clarinet of the Boston Pops. He has toured throughout four continents and premiered works of Elliot Carter and André Previn.  Long silences before, during, and after Abyss of the birds framed the timelessness of this long-held note, of that note from out of nowhere into a greater presence, a sudden birdsong—all these magnificently breathed and nuanced in infinite space.  

Artistic Director Jonathan Miller, a 43-year veteran of the BSO and founding member of the Gramercy Trio, has recorded the complete Beethoven cello sonatas with Randall Hodgkinson for the Centaur label and commissioned new chamber music from Judith Weir, Scott Wheeler, and Gabriela Lena Frank. Praise to the Eternity of Jesus with its “long phrase, infinitely slow,” prompted the cellist to seek surprisingly expressive gestures.

Sharan Leventhal has toured four continents as a soloist, chamber musician, and teacher, received numerous prestigious grants, and premiered well over 150 works. Her broad violin solo in Praise to the Immortality of Jesus reached deep into the spiritual realm, lifting the heart, drawing a tear. All overwhelmingly beautiful, intensely focused toward the final highest note of the afternoon that disappeared ever so gradually into heavenly air.    

To this student of both Boulanger and Messiaen, the two teachers were worlds apart esthetically, and they had few kind words for one another, yet vicissitudes of their times and ours gave way to hope at St. Paul’s.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chair of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).  www.notescape.net

3 Comments »

3 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Pardon the question, but what is BAE? Thanks.

    Comment by Mark Dirksen — March 19, 2024 at 11:53 am

  2. Maybe Boston Artists Ensemble?

    Comment by Ashley — March 19, 2024 at 12:21 pm

  3. Boston Artists Ensemble is named in the second sentence, so I don’t understand the question.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — March 19, 2024 at 11:11 pm

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