IN: Reviews

A Salubrious Immersion


Hanns Eisler

Chameleon Arts Ensemble promised “water water everywhere… rippling, rumbling, streaming, showering….” for its concert at First Church Boston on Saturday, but waterworks weren’t the enticement for this harpist. Rather, an obscure piece we had done 38 years ago at Gardener Museum provided the promised charm. I hadn’t heard Guy Ropartz’s (1864-1955) charming harp quintet since, at least live. This magical work did not sound or feel not damp, even for a second in the a crisp, evocative interpretation. As in most, if not all, harp quintets, the flute costars. In this alluring performance, Madelaine Olson served as the very musical harpist. Flutist (and Chameleon’s Artistic Director) Deborah Boldin sounded absolutely exquisite. Violinist David Bernat, violist Caitlin Lynch, and cellist Sarah Rommel, also impressed.

Composing for harp quintets (harp, flute, & string trio) in Paris during the 1920s won composers (brief) fame and sure opportunities to get their works before the public. Their muse, harpist Pierre Jamet’s Quintet Instrumental de Paris, inspired Jean Cras (his quintet is really lovely), Albert Roussel (his “Serenade” is possibly the best of them), Charles Koechlin, Darius Milhaud, Josef Jongen, André Jolivet, E.T.A. Hoffman, Jean Francaix, Gabriel Pierné and Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht.

Guy Ropartz’s quintet takes its title after its three movements: Prélude, Marine, and Chansons, which is based on a Breton folksong. The composer identified himself as a “Celtic-Breton” described his homeland as “where the fairies and enchanters have as a field the forest of Brocéliande where the spirits of the unburied dead appear all white above the waters.” Its music lilts, carrying one away to magical places. So grateful for a hearing.

Guy Ropartz

Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) had a complicated biography (due to both geography and history) which would be apt material for an adventure series. As Gabe Rice wrote in his terrific program notes, “Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933 was of course a monumental event, and Eisler’s life and career were affected as much as or more than any artist who didn’t end up in a concentration camp.” He studied privately with Schoenberg and Webern. In 1930 he began collaborating with his lifelong friend Bertolt Brecht, and in 1942 he moved to Hollywood. Luck did not follow him. In 1947, the Committee on Un-American Activities hauled in Eisler, and although many luminaries came to his defense, he was deported in 1948, eventually settling in Vienna where he spent the last 12 years of his life mostly devoted to the “angewandte Music” (applied music) for theater, cinema, and television―public media that best served his political agenda.Eisler’s Fourteen Ways of Describing the Rain, conceived as a tribute for Arnold Schoenberg’s 70th birthday, came across in excellent collaborations among all six: violinist David Bernat, Deborah Boldin, Kelli O’Connor (clarinet), Caitlin Lynch (viola), Boston’s beloved cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer, and the outstanding pianist Jessica Xylina Osborne, whom I was glad to hear for the very first time. She had the biggest role, as she later did in the Trout Quintet, and she is someone I would love to hear again.

In an impeccable, colorful, absorbing interpretation which proved its worth, David Bruce’s gorgeous The Consolation of Rain, provided another good example of the kinds of rarities Boldin has shared over the years. Bruce’s deft harp and marimba writing punctuated the atmospheric music which featured the stellar oboe work from Nancy Dimock, with cellist Sarah Rommel, percussionist Matt Sharrock, and the most impressive harpist Madeline Olson. (All of Boldin’s performers have resumes a mile long). In the five movements, the oboe led the way, suggesting darkness to tenderness, sensuality, playfulness and consolation. Bruce’s writing is idiomatic as well as imaginative: the interplay between harp and percussion particularly, uh, stuck us. I look forward to hearing more from this composer.

I must admit to having grown up (musically, at least) with Schubert’s famous Trout Quintet featuring pianist Rudolph Serkin and his Marlboro colleagues. I heard this LP so many times, that I avoided hearing the quintet in concert for the past several decades. But that was before I heard pianist Jessica Xylina Osborne, who made this piece her own with a huge palette of colors and dynamics. Her superb string team included the crackerjack violinist David Bernat who formed a solid team with violist Caitlin Lynch, Popper-Keizer who played seamlessly well with bassist Randall Zigler. Though not initially disposed to re-hear the Trout, all four ravishing performances thrilled me.

Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. She writes about classical music and books for The Arts Fuse. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.

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