Music of the Spheres at its best with Saint-Saëns
TROY The Music of the Spheres Society gave the final concert of the Friends of Chamber Music series Sunday afternoon at Emma Willard’s Kiggins Hall. It was the fourth appearance of the group on the series.
Headed by violinist and Spheres’ director Stephanie Chase, the chamber music ensemble presented a varied program of much interest. Except for one work by Richard Pearson Thomas, which was composed in 1993 and reset for Spheres’ instrumentation, the other three works were either new to Chase or to the modern world.
Chase and pianist Todd Crow began with Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata, which owes its life to violinist Yehudi Menuhin who was shown the manuscript in 1951 and had it published soon after. It’s vintage Mendelssohn: exuberant, bubbling melodies; light and frothy technical passages, romantic harmonies; and an overall sunny, sparkling manner.
Chase and Crow were well-prepared and played with strong momentum, fleet and even techniques in the quickly moving passages and solid phrasing. But they didn’t seem to get off the page to give the music much subtlety or nuance. Except for some moments in the lovely second movement, their touch was forthright and declamatory rather than laughing and insinuating.
Chase challenged herself even more in Paganini’s Solo Sonata (1800). Supposedly written as a gesture of appreciation for the gift of a violin when Paganini was 17, the three movements had many virtuosic passages, which were not as complex as the sonatas Paganini would one day write, but they showed what direction he was heading in. Amid the many long romantic melodies, Paganini inserted harmonics, wide leaps, double stops and the melodies played as harmonics.
The work was first published in 2009 and Chase gave the American premiere last year, but on Sunday she tread very cautiously. She was in her element with the sustained passages, which she played with a rich, full tone and great confidence. But in the filigree and flourishes, she sounded almost as if she were sightreading.
Thomas’ “At last, to be identified!” with texts by Emily Dickinson was sung by soprano Hope Hudson with Chase, Crowd and cellist James Wilson. Hudson sang lustily with excellent diction in the usually abstract lines. Instrumentation was spare. The best were “I never saw a moor,” which had wonderful lyricism; and “At last, to be identified!” which had Hudson soaring over a rich cello that reached an ecstatic climax that was thrilling.
The best ensemble work was done in Saint-Saëns’ marvelous Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor (1892) with Chase, Crow and Wilson. With five movements of graceful, romantic melodies and wonderfully dark harmonies, the piece oozed color and charm. Wilson’s seductively romantic phrasing only added to the crowd’s pleasure.