Unusual Arrangement by String Quartet, Harpsichord Effective in Bach Concerto

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A lively crowd enjoyed the Collins Family Memorial Concert in the chapel of First Church Boston at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, June 6. An excellent ad hoc string quartet (Tatiana Daubek, Marika Holmqvist, violins; Karina Fox, viola; Colleen McCary-Smith, cello) delivered the goods, with Paul Cienniwa as harpsichord soloist in the Bach Harpsichord Concerto in A Major. The rest of the program consisted of the Haydn Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4 (Hob. III:34) and the Mozart Quartet in G Major (K. 387), “Spring.”

For the Bach concerto (BWV 1055), the band picked up Baroque bows, eschewing the torque bows that they used for the two classical quartets. The instrumentalists were placed in front of the harpsichord width-wise in the unusually shaped chapel (there are no right angles). Any fears that the harpsichord would be swamped were instantly dispelled by the jolly opening movement. The A Major ending chord was particularly outstanding in this arrangement.   [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Pianist Yi-heng Yang Brings Out Qualities of Frederick Collection’s Tröndlin

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Yesterday afternoon, June 6, Taiwanese-American pianist Yi-heng Yang played the 1830 Tröndlin grand piano in the final concert of the 25th spring series of Frederick Collection Historical Piano Concerts at the Community Church in Ashburnham, Mass. She was very sensitive to the differences in this instrument’s registers and controlled its volume appropriately and expertly.

The first half of the program was devoted to Beethoven: his 6 Bagatelles, Op. 126, from 1823-4, and his Sonata No. 31 in Ab, Op. 110, from 1820-2. The second half opened with Schumann’s Abegg-Variationen, Op. 1 of 1829-30 and closed with three of his 8 Noveletten, Op. 21, (Nos. 1, 8, and 2 in that order), of 1838. All of this music fit the instrument like a hand in a tailor-made glove.            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Chorus Pro Musica On the Money With Orff and Argento

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For the past 30 years this listener’s gold standard for choral sound has been the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. On Sunday, June 6, a rival assemblage appeared, producing a sound in Jordan Hall that was as high-decibeled and as hair-raising. The Chorus Pro Musica, though also a group of mature singers, proved extremely adept at impersonating randy young monks and innocent maidens in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The three excellent soloists, soprano Mary Wilson, tenor Rockland Osgood, and baritone Andrew Garland, all hit their money notes with consistency, but what elevated their contribution was how each one dealt with the unrelenting high tessitura while maintaining emotional involvement and establishing dramatic personæ.

The post-Randall Thompson choral writing together with the shimmering percussion accompaniments made for a very evocative setting of some very old Latin texts in Dominick Argento’s I Hate and I Love from poetry of Catullus, which still speaks to the universality of love and loss.              [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Cathedral Organist Leo Abbot Prepares Concert for Paris

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The E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston never sounded so fine as it did under the Cathedral’s Music Director and Organist Leo Abbott on Sunday, June 6. Clean in his approach, Abbot finely orchestrated the colorful and expressive late-19th-century pieces on his program (DuBois, Widor, Vierne), bringing about remarkable lucidity throughout. Often there was lift from both his registration and fluid execution.

I assume that the French will welcome the masterful playing of Leo Abbot. But there is one exception: why on earth is the concluding piece, Vexilla Regis Prodeunt (1995) composed by Naji Hakim and commissioned by Abbott, going abroad? It shouldn’t be.            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Schepkin Virtuoso Performance Wows Audience at Harvard

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Audiences rarely give a pianist three curtain calls and a standing ovation at intermission, but this happened on Saturday, June 5, when the superb Russian-American pianist Sergey Schepkin performed in recital at Harvard’s Dudley House.

Schepkin played Bach, Brahms, Fauré, and Debussy. His acute musical intelligence, brilliant technique, and innate sense of tempo allow him to make whatever he plays sound as if it is being played exactly as the composer intended.

For an encore Schepkin played Debussy’s wildly virtuosic “”L’isle joyeuse.” What a great evening. What a great artist.   [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Zander and NEC Youth Philharmonic Orchestra Triumph

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On June 4, in a program of huge challenges, Benjamin Zander and the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra achieved a triumph. The program’s overarching theme was human isolation, comprised of only three pieces: the Adagio of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 10, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, and Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.

Any misgivings one might have about such young musicians taking on Mahler’s last completed movement were quickly erased by the deeply committed playing of the orchestra. The Shostakovich provided a fine showcase for the 16-year-old cellist Jeonghwan James Kim as well as for the orchestra. The players dug into the Bartók, seeming to relish the challenges.   [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Memorable Day at Tannery Pond

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This review is the first in a series of dispatches from an estimable sibling e-journal, The Berkshire Review. From time to time this summer their writers will be covering events in the western parts of Massachusetts and nearby New York for BMInt. In the regular concert season Berkshire Review will selectively re-print some of the articles from this journal. We salute Berkshire Review editor, Michael Miller and anticipate a fruitful collaboration.
Lee Eiseman, publisher

Shaker Village at New Lebanon, New York, seemed an unlikely setting for the serious and sometimes stark musical fare offered on Saturday evening, May 29, by the Brentano String Quartet in the Tannery Pond Concerts. The Beethoven String Quartet in C-Sharp Minor, Opus 131 alone can exhaust both listeners and performers in its emotional extremes. The deeply tragic and valedictory Britten String Quartet III, Opus 94, was infused with poignancy and despair. The rarely heard Schumann String Quartet in F-Major, Opus 41, No. 2, while having its share of Biedermeir charm, also shared some spectral affinities with the Britten, and evoked, at times, the melancholy of Caspar David Friedrich’s dark and mysterious landscapes. However, one could not have been more satisfied and impressed with a performance that transformed the darkness into light with the sheer force of musical intelligence and immaculate technique.                   [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Shuann Chai Shows Frederick Collection Érard’s Tonal Expression

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For her fourth appearance on the Frederick Collection’s Historical Piano Concerts Series on May 30, Chinese-American pianist Shuann Chai chose to perform on the 1840 Érard. It is less powerful than the 1877 “Extra-grand modèle de concert” heard in the previous two recitals, but what it loses in power, it gains in tonal expression. Chai’s program was tailor-made to show off this richness and to showcase the year’s two bicentennial luminaries: Chopin and Robert Schumann, with a few short showpieces by their contemporaries and one of their successors, some now forgotten, others now rarely performed, thrown in. Her performance was as competent as her comments, and as sparkling as the compositions. All of this was eminently apparent in her masterful exploiting of the full potential of the 1840 Érard.           [Click title for full review.]

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BMOP Proves That New Music Can Be Moving

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On Friday, May 28, in Jordan Hall, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, a.k.a. BMOP, presented its last concert of the season -— five works composed in the past 25years, two of which featured the great baritone Sanford Sylvan. BMOP presented works by four living composers, all in attendance, and Orchestra Piece by Leon Kirchner, who died last fall. All, conducted with precision and flair by BMOP’s Artistic Director, Gil Rose, were given excellent performances.

Throughout this evening, the orchestra played remarkably well. The violins were most impressive, the flute and horns excellent, and the harpist, Ina Zdorovetchi, her usual excellent self. The enthusiastic audience, full of prominent musicians, seemed to love what they were hearing.          [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Difficult Mission That Didn’t Come Off

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Oceans of ink have been spilt over trying to come to terms with World War II and, more specifically, the Holocaust. To close off its 2009-10 season, the Juventas New Music Ensemble on May 22 at the Cambridge YMCA presented a new opera, 3 x 3 = ?, about the Holocaust. The production brought up heady questions, any one of which would fill a fine dissertation. To throw them out, one after another, in the span of 90 minutes felt intellectually irresponsible. I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic, but the aesthetics of the work didn’t exactly mesh with the message.

The instrumentation used was spare, but provided a rich sound. Live electronics balanced out the ensemble.             [Click title for full review.]

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Old But Little-Known Chromatic Club Fullfills Expectations

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In its final concert of the season, the 123-year-old Chromatic Club of Boston presented two fine musicians, violinist Annie Rabbat and pianist Raquel Gorgojo, at the College Club on Sunday, May 23. They offered four pieces, sonatas by Mozart and Brahms, a Slavonic Dance by Dvorák, and a delicious bonbon by Fritz Kreisler.

Their music making was characterized by judicious tempos, good ensemble and a firm sense of form.       [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Takasawa’s Fine First Appearance on the Frederick Collection’s Series

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The 1877 Érard “Extra-grand modèle de concert” was in the Community Church in Ashburnham, MA, again Sunday afternoon, May 23, for an all-French program played by Japan-born Manabu Takasawa, associate professor of music at the University of Rhode Island.

Both the Debussy preludes that Takasawa chose for the first half evoked dances: the stately and regular ones of “Danseuses de Delphes,” and the more wispy, filigreed ones of “Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses.” Although  Debussy played Érards, he owned a 1904 Blüthner. Fauré’s approximately 15-minute-long Thème et [11] Variations in C-sharp, Op. 73 allowed Takasawa to demonstrate more fully the piano’s broad spectrum of tonal variety and dynamic power.  Fauré owned an Érard, so it was no surprise that the work sounded superb on this piano.  Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911), a set of eight waltzes, further demonstrated the instrument’s enormous range and potential.

The performances of Fauré’s, Nocturne No. 4 in E-flat, Op. 36 and Impromptu No. 3 in A-flat, Op. 34 , were exquisite, perhaps more lovely than any I have ever heard, and the piano could not have suited the music more perfectly. Is Takasawa a candidate to record all the Fauré Nocturnes and Impromptus on this Frederick Collection piano?

The recital, masterfully played entirely from memory, concluded with César Franck’s monumental nearly 20-minute-long Prélude, Chorale et Fugue. Takasawa was able to play some of the related or deliberately contrasted works as uninterrupted pairs!  Bravo!  We hope he will make many future appearances on the Historical Piano Concerts series.            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Ideal Victorian Gothic Setting for Borromeo at its Best

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When the Borromeo String Quartet is playing at its best, as it was in the Forsyth Chapel at Forest Hill Cemetery on Sunday, May 23, it is hubris to pen a critique of their performance. This writer intends rather to submit a report of a concert he received with great pleasure.

The venue, a small, colorful and resonant Victorian Gothic chapel, gave ideal support to the ensemble, especially the cello. The program opened with Nicholas Kitchen’s transcription for string quartet of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Anne” Fugue for organ, followed by Haydn’s String Quartet in E-flat Major Op. 64 #6 (Hob. III:64).

The second half of the concert opened with a rapt interpretation of Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2 and ended with “The Big Fuge” (Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge , Op. 133), a performance that was, for the first time for this philistine reviewer, a pleasure to hear.        [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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“All About Mary” All Secular, All Jaw-Droppingly Good

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On May 22 at the First Church, Congregational of Cambridge,  Musica Sacra performed  a completely secular program called “Mary’s Playlist”  to honor and thank their artistic director, Mary Beekman, for her 30 years of inspired musicianship. Never having heard this jaw-droppingly good chorus before, I was astonished by the sheer beauty of their voices, which under Ms. Beekman’s inspired and rigorous direction, captured the spirit of each of a large variety of texts and music. Her miniature musical memoirs took the form of delightful and highly informative program notes.

Among her favorite pieces, there were, not surprisingly, songs about love. The beautiful Lay a Garland was, for this listener, the highlight of the first half of the program. Kolenna Sawa by Jim Papoulis, the last programmed piece, featured a short text about “the strength of our unity…” The program notes said: “With its foot stomping, chest thumping, clapping, ululating, irregular rhythms, and mid-Eastern intervals of augmented 2nds, what’s not to like?”  Well, yes, I quite agree.

Of Elgar’s  haunting My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land,  Ms. Beekman said, “This is the only work that was recommended to me by my father. Our musical tastes were very different, his tending towards the emotional excesses of Romanticism and mine towards the restraint of the Baroque.”

This, however, was not an evening of restraint. There was a palpable sense in the audience, many gathered outside in the spring air at intermission, that this was, even for this chorus, a very exciting event.       [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Chameleons’ Richly Colored Concert Flung on Canvas

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The Chameleon Arts Ensemble presented its last concert of the season on May 22 at the Goethe-Institut, Boston. The program’s title, “. . . flung on canvas like notes divine . . . ,“ from wherever its unidentified source, was a curious one, but it worked well to prepare the audience for the underlying energy and passion of the whole.

The music of Pierre Jalbert (b. 1967) is new to me, but based on this performance of his Visual Abstract (2002), I would like to hear more. It was superbly performed by the core Chameleons, its artistic director and flute (Deborah Boldin), clarinet (Kelli O’Connor), violin (Katherine Winterstein), cello (Rafael Popper-Keizer), piano (Vivian Chang-Freiheit), and percussion (Brian Vogel).

I wish I could say the same for Gabriel Fauré’s long song cycle, La Chanson d’Ève, op. 95. Ève was sung by soprano Sabrina Learman, who has a large, beautiful voice, almost Wagnerian in breadth and depth of pitch. The able pianist for this difficult part was Vivian Chang-Freiheit. But unfortunately the two never captured the delicate shimmering quality that escalates to joyous expression of this magical cycle, nor were most of the words intelligible.

Gareth Farr’s Taheke (the Maori word for waterfalls) was a stunning virtuosic display on the part of the flutist Deborah Boldin and harpist Anna Reinersman.

Chameleon’s string players, violinists Joanna Kurkowicz and Katherine Winterstein, violist Scott Woolweaver, and cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer, were joined by violist Marcus Thompson and cellist Joshua Gordon for a rousing performance of Tchaikovsky’s string sextet, Souvenir de Florence, his last chamber work.                         [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Idealism and Irresistible Urge Mark Anthology’s Concert

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Anthology presented “Music of Light and Dark: New Music for Women’s Voices” Sunday afternoon, May 23, at Christ Church in Cambridge. This young and bubbly four-woman vocal ensemble gave “eight world premieres” of music composed especially for them. Premiered were the compositions of Peter Bell, Jonathan Breit, Brian John, Stefanie Lubkowski, Nikan Milani, Steven Serpa, and Tony Solitro. Anney Gillotte, Allegra Martin , Vicky Reichert, and Michell Vachon make up the ensemble.

In an unusual move that could very well be off-putting to some, the ensemble performed each of the new pieces twice, to offer the listeners an opportunity “to have a different sonic experience each time.”

It has to be a big “yes” for this ensemble’s thorough learning of this widely varied music and its encouragement of young composers. For the time being, too little attention was directed toward dynamics and expressivity. But the composers were somewhat guilty. Most could not resist depending on the high, “intense and exciting” notes in soprano upper registers. And what is so tempting for the inexperienced, the urge to paint every word or phrase of the text, forgetting that overall shape, organic development, build, and the like are the stuff of coherent composition. Exceptions were Night Owl and Of the Phoenix by Steven Serpa and Po-Chun Wang’s Awakenings, sung in Chinese. Wang’s musical vocabulary went expressively beyond the conservative sounds of those of the other composers.         [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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One Nation Under Optimism

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The Boston Pops pulled out all the stops on Tuesday, May 19, for their much anticipated program, “American Heroes.” The Dream Lives On: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers, by Peter Boyer, was the evening’s centerpiece.

The Kennedys’ words were delivered magnificently by Robert De Niro (John F.), Ed Harris (Robert), and Morgan Freeman (Ted). Mr. Freeman’s performance was Oscar-worthy. He nearly stole the show. Actress Cherry Jones spoke as well. On this night of fervent musical patriotism, to love and admire the Kennedys was, it seemed, equated with love of America. Boyer’s music served this goal well. It was reminiscent of the more “serious” music of John Williams, but without any memorable tunes.  It was perfect for Pops, very “easy listening,” very Hollywood. It felt and sounded a lot like the background music for an Oscar night Lifetime Achievement Award segment.

The sense of occasion, with soloists such as Arlo Guthrie and Brian Stokes Mitchell, was heightened by the huge National 9/11 Flag hung over on the back of the stage. The Battle Hymn of the Republic began within a few nanoseconds of the last note of Barber’s Adagio for Strings, followed by a Patriotic Sing-Along.

One left Symphony Hall already having forgotten all but the tattered and re-quilted flag, the actors, the dog, and the firefighters. Where there are audiences who love the Kennedys, there will be a market for The Dream Lives On. I predict a long life on DVDs.  [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Cambridge Symphony Caps 35th Season with Bielawa, Saint-Saëns, Berlioz

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The Cambridge Symphony Orchestra concluded its season on May 16 at the Greater Boston Vineyard Church in North Cambridge. Music Director Cynthia Woods conducted a program that featured the première of a commissioned work by Lisa Bielawa, the Saint-Saëns first cello concerto with soloist Rafael Popper-Keizer, and the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique.

Emerald Waltz by Lisa Bielawa seemed sturdy enough to benefit from more extended treatment. Ms. Woods conducts with nice big beats; her background in community and youth orchestras stands her in good stead.

It is therefore welcome to have Popper-Keizer, a well-known figure on the local scene as orchestral and chamber musician, take on Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto No. 1. He adopted an appropriately forward tone in the first movement, but, alas, the room acoustic worked against him like a headwind. Woods kept her forces, somewhat reduced in keeping with the light scoring, together, with only the slow movement’s delicate opening to remind us that the CSO is a no-audition all-comers community ensemble.

The program concluded with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. For this brilliantly scored work, the CSO rose to its full complement; therein lay the trouble. We noted with pleasure some fine wind and brass playing, with kudos to clarinets, flutes, bassoons and low brass. Sometimes, with community orchestras, especially ones as civic-minded as CSO, one has to choose between that commitment and quality of product. So, while the Berlioz performance was not geared to the cognoscenti, the concert at least made up in considerable degree with some intelligent out-of-the-ordinary programming; that’s worth praise in and of itself.    [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Concord Pops Concert Worthy of the Genre

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The Concord Orchestra Pops concerts on May 16 in at 51 Walden in Concord was not easy-listening pablum, but real music on a diverse menu, showing the Concord Orchestra in great shape after a busy season. Pittman’s conducting brings out exuberant, crisp, full range of dynamics and phrasing from his orchestra. A classic opener, the Russlan and Ludmilla Overture of Glinka, set the virtuosic tone for the concert. We also heard the world premiere of a classy new brass and percussion piece, Fanfare for Dick, by Bernard Hoffer, written in honor of Richard Pittman’s 40th anniversary with the Concord Symphony Orchestra, parent of the Concord Pops. Arthur Foote’s 1918 A Night Piece was given a clear and lyrical performance by principal flutist Susan Jackson and the orchestra strings. The light touches of the cymbals were effectively discreet. Soprano Karyl Ryczek sang Zerlna’s “Batti, batti” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni beautifully and with perfect diction, as well as leading the Arlen, Rodgers and Duke sing-along; the arrangements were quite lush and elegantly underplayed. The audience singers faded quickly from her rendition of April in Paris, however, and let her beautiful tone carry the day.        [Click title for full review.]

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Stephen Porter Plays the Frederick’s 1877 Erard ‘Extra grand modèle de concert’

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Stephen Porter opened his recital on the Frederick Collection’s 1877 Erard in the Ashburnham Community Church on May 16 with Liszt’s “Les Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este,” No. 4 from his Années de pélerinage, composed in the year of the piano’s manufacture. Porter had played this instrument in earlier concerts, allowing him to make judicious selections of works to display its tone qualities and dynamic potential for a truly fine program superbly played with an amazing sound.

This Erard model, made from 1877 into the late 1920s, has a crystalline clarity with a distinctive bell-like ring and a slow decay; it’s unforgiving of errors, and so very demanding of a musician playing it. (There were no such errors on this fine program.) Its tone is particularly well suited for works like the Liszt, which imitates the trickling of the water over the edges of the fountains.

The next three selections in Porter’s program were from Ravel’s 1904 Miroirs followed by three pieces by Debussy (who played, though he did not own, Erards). The challenges of Liszt’s monumental Sonata in B, S. 178 were easily met by Porter with confidence and without any gratuitous demonstrative gestures.

Porter teaches at Phillips Andover. There are many fine musicians like him who choose not to be constantly on the go or on the move playing the same program in a different city every few days, but rather to stay put in a place they love and share their talents with their neighbors and instill them in the next generations.    [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Back Bay Chorale and Jarrett Give Accomplished Tour of Splendors of Bach Mass in B Minor

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Bach’s Mass in B Minor contains some of his finest as well as most difficult music. On Saturday, May 15 in Sanders Theater, the Back Bay Chorale, conducted by Scott Allen Jarrett, gave a skilful, beautiful, and moving tour of the splendors of this supreme masterpiece. The appropriately massive, six-part “Sanctus” typified the prevailing esthetic of the performance: weighty but not ponderous, powerful but not unrestrained, allowing for clarity of harmony and ensemble.

The two-soprano duet of “Christe eleison” was beautifully rendered by Kendra Colton and Sonja Tengblad. Again, there was absolute unanimity of approach between the Concertmaster Heidi Braun-Hill and Colton. The balance in “Domine Deus” for Colton and tenor Aaron Sheehan tended to favor Ms. Colton, though this improved in the B section due to the soprano’s lower and tenor’s higher respective tessituras. The singers were partnered by a lovely obbligato played in unison by flutists Sarah Brady and Vanessa Holroyd.

The fugue in “Cum Sancto Spiritu” was one of the very few places in the performance where the ensemble began ever so slightly to totter; Mr. Jarrett prudently pulled the tempo back infinitesimally, and everything was fine, building to the climactic conclusion in a blaze of trumpet virtuosity from Terry Everson.

The upward stretching lines and majestic tempo of the final chorus, “Dona nobis pacem,” gave the piece nobility and gravitas, bringing a distinguished performance to its end.     [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Surprises, Haziness Sprung from Masterworks Chorale

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Masterworks Chorale took the stage at Sanders Theatre on Sunday, May 16, with Steven Karidoyanes, Music Director, to present “The American Five: Barber, Bernstein, Copland, Gershwin, and Ives.”

The wow of the afternoon display goes to pianist, Leslie Amper; I have never, ever heard George Gershwin’s Preludes so wonderfully delivered as I did with Amper at the keyboard. It had all those neat bustling New York street rhythms from the earlier decades of the 20th century.

And there was another surprise in this “choral garden,” the voice of countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf, who emitted one gorgeous mellifluousness after another. His vowels, in every register they appeared, sprouted into the loveliest of sounds you can imagine, always pure and innocent, in Leonard Bernstein’s The Lark. Narrator Holly Samuels got the right feel of the intervening text. It was quite a close with the chorus in the “Gloria” verging on real cacophony accompanied by clustered chiming from the percussionist.

The most chorally satisfying music on this program came from Samuel Barber and his Reincarnations: “Mary Hynes,” “Anthony O’Daly” and “The Coolin (The Fair Haired Ones).” The 89 vibratos and timbres might explain the overall sound produced by the Masterworks Chorale, the resulting sonic haziness. Simpler harmonies fared better, the more complex not so well. The bimodal setting of the 67th Psalm of New England’s Charles Ives, pitting the upper voices in one key against the lower voices in another key, shed a bit of the haziness, but a laden quality pervaded.             [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Concord Women’s Chorus Celebrates 50 Years with Regional Women Composers, Poets

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The place to be on Saturday, May 8, was very definitely the Concord Women’s Chorus 50th anniversary concert, “American Women of Note.” Every creaky pew (including those in the balcony) in the majestic First Parish was packed with devoted fans. Director Jane Ring Frank has been with the group for the past 16 years. After starting in 1960 as the Concord Madrigals, the group has grown both in size (now more that 60 members) and scope, with this concert demonstrating considerable artistic ambition in taking on a wide range of challenging styles. To celebrate their anniversary, they made the wonderful commemorative step of commissioning an important new work, Concord Fragments, by Libby Larsen, setting texts compiled and written by poet Melissa Apperson.

Ring Frank had devised a perfectly balanced program, beginning each of the two halves with settings of poems by Emily Dickinson. Celebrating the chorus’s role in the community, much of the repertoire drew on local or regional composers or poets and all the music was composed by women.                  [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Atypical Mothers’ Day Fare with Prussian and Russian Passion

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The First Church of Boston was filled on May 9 for the Chamber Music Foundation’s concert featuring works by Ludwig van Beethoven and Jakov Jakoulov. Ellina Blinder, piano, Lilia Muchnik, violin, and Sergey Antonov, cello, maintained a balanced, clear dialogue as Beethoven’s Piano Trio in G, Op. 1 No. 2 ranged from delicately Mozartian to friskily Haydnesque. While Blinder deftly handled the required ebb and flow and Muchnik’s playing was secure and musical, Antonov created a warm, enveloping tone highly evocative of the human voice.

Jakoulov’s Three Hildegard’s Songs is a powerful work that utilizes Hildegard von Bingen’s text and single-line melodies with Jakoulov’s rhythms and harmonies. Jakoulov’s piano accompaniment was simple, direct, growly, forceful, and highly percussive. Mezzo-soprano Miranda Loud’s earthy, passionate interpretation more than lived up to her surname in the final ecstatic verse with a well-rounded tone that reverberated pleasingly in the live acoustic. The overall effect was one of drama and mystery, with perhaps a whiff of the Middle Eastern.

Sonata for Viola and Piano No. 1 was written for Boston Symphony violist Michael Zaretsky, who gave this acerbic, probing work a virtuosic, intentionally scratchy, tone-bending rendition; pianist Yelena Prizant played quite capably within the limited expressive confines of the percussive accompaniment.

Jakoulov’s La Musica Leggera, La Musica Eroica was written in memory of Russian-Israeli poet Michael Gendelev. After reading Gendelev’s poem in its original Russian, Jakoulov guided the ensemble through an intense, heartfelt performance. Once again the piano part, competently performed by Prizant, was highly percussive, with a dynamic range seemingly from forte to fortissississimo (ffff). Cellist Antonov’s thoughtful, attentive playing was white-hot. Quite the dramatic evening; certainly far from typical Mothers’ Day fare.    [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Divine, Deranged, and “Uncomfortable Truths” in Music about Mothers

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“Music about Mothers, from the Divine, to the Deranged” was the program on Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 9) by Cantilena at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington; organist Joshua T. Lawton was the competent piano accompanist. This is Allegra Martin’s first season as director, and programming is her strong suit; the primary interest for this concert was the well-chosen poetry.

Martin wrote in the valuable program notes — with texts, “Today’s program will acknowledge both the transcendent aspect of motherhood and the occasionally uncomfortable day-to-day truths.” A large audience comprising mostly women resonated warmly to the point.

In many ways the loveliest was Bobby McFerrin’s “23rd Psalm,” dedicated to his mother, in the manner of Anglican chant. The centerpiece was a commissioned work by Boston composer Michael J. Veloso setting two poems from Letters to Little Bean, written by Rachel Barenblat during her first successful pregnancy.

Irving Fine’s “Caroline Million” (Isabelle MacMeekin) was the liveliest of the lot; rollicking rhyme pervades the musical texture. Rhythmic repetition appears in both Zae Mann’s Grandma’s Alleluia (Ann Kilkelly)  and “The Stove,” as a mother pounds her stove to bits with a sledgehammer. Perhaps most moving was Gwyneth Walker’s “Mother to Son,” set to the poem by Langston Hughes from The Weary Blues.

In spite of this inventive programming, there was a sameness about the music. The well rehearsed, animated chorus always sang in tune, and their diction was good. Martin’s conducting style is calm; clearly she has a great deal of musical intelligence going for her.      [Click title for full review.]

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