St. Paul’s Church
February 9, 2020 5:00pm
Bolcom The Serpent’s Kiss (Rag-Fantasy) for four-hand piano
Lehár Dein ist mein ganzes Herz from The Land of Smiles
Mozart Soave sia il vento from Così fan Tutte
Rossini Zitto Zitto, Piano Piano from La Cenerentola
Kristen Watson, soprano
Krista River, mezzo
Stephen Carroll, tenor
David McFerrin, baritone
Gloria Chien, piano
Sophie Scolnik-Brower piano
Julie Scolnik, flute
Though the concert title might lead one to believe that great passion were afoot here, the theme of this delightful, largely vocal, concert was considerably more lighthearted. Though love was indeed in the air, it was love with a smile, if indeed, at times, a bit melancholic.
The major portion of this relatively concise but thoroughly charming recital was taken up by Brahms’s cycle for four voices, the Liebeslieder Waltzes. With two men’s and two women’s parts, this eighteen part homage to love is based on Polydora, a cycle of poems by G.F. Daumer, which the program notes delicately refer to as serviceable but inconsequential. That wry designation indeed gives the gist of these short odes, some of which go by in a few heartbeats.
Brahms, who one could never accuse of being a lightweight, is, here, however, about as light as one can imagine. His music is not, by any means, inconsequential, but it is delicately lyrical in a way that one might not immediately expect from the grand master of Romantic intensity. Perhaps he required lightweight poetry in order to bring a bit of levity and near-humor into his potently evocative mode of composition.
As I listened to this performance’s lovely rendering of these pieces, I was reminded again and again of Mozart arias. Somehow that gentleness and lyricism always came through, in a way that did not betray the message of love but always delivered it with a wink.
The quartet of voices which deftly conveyed this set of sweet morsels was ideally suited to the intimate setting. With voices that are precise and lyrical rather than vast and declamatory, the four – Kristen Watson (soprano), Krista River (mezzo), Stephen Carroll (tenor) and David McFerrin (baritone) – achieved a potent simplicity of integration without overwhelming the space. The delicacy of the rendering gave an appropriately sized account of a work which is ideally suited to this kind of forthright and immediate interpretation.
Backed up by piano four hands, with Gloria Chien and Sophie Scolnik-Brower adeptly providing the paired honors, the lyricism of these aggregated erotic morsels came to life under the vaulted ceiling of Brookline’s St. Paul’s Church; massive organ pipes visibly and persuasively array the front of the chapel, offering a reminder of how easily, especially in that intimate space, one might be overwhelmed by a forceful blast of sound. This performance was, indeed, just the opposite – deft, persuasive, and gentle in its invitations.
The highly capable pianists returned for a real treat after the Brahms, switching their positions on the keyboard, and delivering William Bolcom’s wonderfully syncopated and somewhat Cubist homage to Ragtime, The Serpent’s Kiss. As pianist Sophie Scolnik-Brower noted before the performance, the piece is part of an Eden-inspired series of pieces by Bolcom. That wonderful and dastardly initiation of erotic transgression becomes the subject of another wry homage to the derangements and inspirations of love, here embodied in the fabulously distressed whimsies of the piano rag. Overtaking the piano with its passion, the Rag, and Bolcom’s fanciful and wonderful take on it, assume all kinds of unexpected forms, with the two pianists becoming not just tonal wizards, but percussive ones as well. With stomping feet and battering hands on the piano box, the two pianists morphed into an entire percussion section, adding immensely to the craziness and fun.
After the intermission, Mistral Artistic Director and flutist Julie Scolnik emerged to play a couple of sweet, unannounced, embellishments to the program.
Lo here the Gentle Lark by Henry Bishop, a bright, lively and relentlessly energetic piece which Scolnik introduced as made famous in the current era by flute wizard Jean-Pierre Rampal and the not quite virtuosic Muppet Miss Piggy, was given a delightful rendition by Scolnik and soprano Kristen Watson.
Following this and preceding the remainder of the announced program was a Donizetti aria originally featuring an oboe, reinterpreted richly by Scolnik on flute with Sophie Scolnik-Brower on piano.
Tenor Stephen Carroll returned for a delicate offering by Franz Lehár from The Land of Smiles which was followed by perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the program, the inimitable trio Soave sia il vento from Mozart’s Così fan Tutte. A paean to love, it embodies all aspects of Mozart’s poetic genius, providing sincere drama in the midst of a wryly comedic context; mezzo Krista River, baritone David McFerrin and tenor Stephen Carroll gave it all the poignancy it deserves.
The concert ended with the rambunctious quartet from the end of Act I of Rossini’s Cinderella fantasy La Cenerentola. Also involving role-switching, as does the humorously manipulative plot of Cosí fan Tutte, the quartet is a relentless homage to the scurrilous elusiveness of love. Passionate in its speed and intensity, it literally runs away with the possibilities of love as the words pour forth from the four voices. The quartet of voices here, again, gave a wonderfully precise and playfully entertaining delivery, adding to the overall tone of passion at play. In some ways it was the perfect capping to the concert, helping one to frame the middle term of the concert’s title – madly – as perhaps its most significant emblem.
The title of the concert, by the way, is taken from that of a wonderful 1990 film starring Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson about a woman and her dear boyfriend, a cellist, who has recently died, and her attempt to continue to communicate with him; in some ways fanciful, it’s also deeply poignant.
– BADMan (aka Charles Munitz)