IN: Reviews

Brooding and Blissful

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As Halcyon Music Festival artistic director (and pianist extraordinaire) Heng-Jin Park welcomed us to the season’s sixth and last concert at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, we could not avoid reflecting on its decade-long project of two-week retreats for a dozen or more collegial musicians and the bravura performances that resulted from the relaxed but enthusiastic collaborations. Given the marketing title “Chrysanthemums” in honor of the opener, Puccini’s namesake quartet movement, the concert, involving 13 players in four varied works, left a genteel but upbeat crowd wanting more.

Though the foursome (violinists Gabriela Diaz and Monica Pegis, violist Tim Deighton, and cellist David Hardy) throbbed with juiciness in the comfortable (for once the summer-festival temperature was moderate), resonant sanctuary, Puccini’s Crisantemi also advanced through its theatrically mournful six minutes with a palpable pulse and determined momentum through the expert players’ soft, but firm inflections, broad dynamics, and sumptuous colorations. Gabby Diaz expounded on the theme of earnest grief with much heat, emotional force, and profundity.

A piece written in the last couple of years of his life (1880 – 1959), Bloch’s Concertino for Flute, Viola, and Piano reads as an ingratiating summa of the composer’s virtues.

Bloch is perhaps best known for his music of Jewish character, particularly his rhapsody for cello and orchestra, Schelomo; his violin suite Baal Shem, and his Avodath Hakodesh (Sacred Service). However, two-thirds of his output was music of a more abstract nature, blending a range of American and European as well as Jewish influences. In late Romantic style and harmony, the music also reflects Bloch’s life-long interest in the music of Bach.

In November 1947, the Juilliard School and the League of Composers sponsored a three-concert festival of Bloch’s music in New York’s Carnegie Hall. As a follow-up to this highly successful event, Juilliard commissioned Bloch to write a new piece for performance by Juilliard students. The resulting three-movement Concertino, premiered in 1950, was composed for flute, viola and string orchestra, but Bloch also produced the chamber-music version that we hear this evening for flute, viola and piano.                          Willard J. Herz 

Saturday night’s performance gave us our first glimpse and hearing of the BSO’s new Principal Flute Lorna McGhee. She also talked about “unlocking the piece,” describing the three movements as “(1) folkish and conversational, (2) pilgrimage and prayer, (3) mysterious, but we ‘cracked it’.” Her seamless, focused tone across the flute’s registers played the resonance of the room expertly. Indeed, we heard gorgeous tone from all three players. Violist Danny Kim , facing out, projected unalloyed joy, like a morn in spring. Pianist Lolita Liskovskaya-Sayevich made a handsome statement of the fugal passacaglia as the academic structure blossomed and soared in the second movement. She began the third movement with something like a three-part invention in Bloch’s neo-classic expansion. A visit from nature with fuguing bird songs ensues (cue the flute) before another essay in counterpoint yields to a polka redolent of bustling country music halls. It came across delightfully with a marvelous nostalgia.

So much has been written (although nothing in the handout) about Mozart’s top-drawer String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465, “Dissonance,” that this writer will eschew paraphrasing or quoting any scholarly analysis. The purpose-built ensemble of violinists Irina Muresanu, and Ben Sayevich, violist Tim Deighton,and cellist  Jonah Ellsworth, drew forth a deeply committed intensity seemingly informed by a 19th-century expressive vocabulary improved with 21st-century precision. The Adagio opened at a leisurely pace; gradually swelling intensity and romantic relish fired the dissonance into hot metal. Longing and release proved irresistible. Violinist Muresanu’s old-master elegance has gone from strength to strength over the decades. Her gilded tones are safe and secure at any speed or volume. Throughout she commanded, cajoled, and consoled, though the Andante found the four players determinedly blending rather than accompanying their leader. Cellist Ellsworth shaped some gorgeous portamentos while achieving compelling, and consoling (but never oversold) expression. The Menuetto-Allegro sashayed with unanimous force, though of course we also heard intriguing intimations, especially from the cello. Clean attacks and perfect ensemble characterized the Allegro Molto. Tremolos lined up irrepressibly, and all the well-characterized hesitations and witty tempo and key changes felt immaculately conceived yet improvisatory.

OMG- Sergei Antonov made so much of the cello’s opening theme (sounding exceedingly large of soul) in Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81, that we forgot to exhale. Heng-Jin Park, as patiently elegant as I have ever heard her, extracted bell like, lapidary tone from the church’s recently acquired Steinway B even when charging Furiant like a strong-armed charioteer. Thumbs up also to the technician who voiced it.

Violist David Harding elaborated effectively on Antonov’s theme, and violinists Julia Glenn and Monica Pegis matched strokes marvelously as they continued the elaboration; this happened again in the last movement with Pegis getting the start. In her solos, Glenn pleased and surprised with freshly convincing inflections and bright projection. The energetic journey through Dvořák’s masterpiece never failed to wow us. Over the invigorating 40 minutes, big-toned tuttis came across with ebullient grittiness, but they never felt relentless because the lyrical and quiet contrasting sections (the last one, sans vibrato, produced the effect of a convincing sermon) often came to us with folkish, slow-dancing warmth.

Alas, we need to wait until June of 2025 to hear these folks together again. But we can always watch Halcyon’s videos [HERE] or read our Whitman:

Halcyon Days

Not from successful love alone,
Nor wealth, nor honor’d middle age, nor victories of politics or war;
But as life wanes, and all the turbulent passions calm,
As gorgeous, vapory, silent hues cover the evening sky,
As softness, fulness, rest, suffuse the frame, like fresher, balmier air,
As the days take on a mellower light, and the apple at last hangs
really finish’d and indolent-ripe on the tree,
Then for the teeming quietest, happiest days of all!
The brooding and blissful halcyon days!

Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer

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