Review: Musician of Ma'alwyck's annual Phantasmagoria more than good music

Friday, October 25, 2013
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— If there’s one thing Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz, artistic director and violinist for Musicians of Ma’alwyck, knows how to do, it’s put on a concert.

Actually, the group’s offering Friday night at the First Reformed Church was more entertainment because it involved music, video, an actor and an atmospheric theatrical setting. It was the group’s annual Phantasmagoria to get everyone in the mood for Halloween, and it did.

The nave’s lights were darkened while a “ghoul” lit two candelabras, then Brian Massman, dressed in 19th century garb and carrying a lantern, told the crowd to be silent. Massman would go on to introduce each of the musical pieces with an improvised monologue, occasionally taking time to intone Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Bells” with rich, plummy and resonant tones from different locations in the church.

Massman also provided the old-style, black-and-white video cartoons of skeletons or ghosts cavorting. These showed while the musicians played.

All the musicians were dressed in creepy costumes, with makeup to match. Applause was held to the evening’s end to keep the ghoulish mood.

Barker Schwartz and cellist Petia Kassarova began with Reinhold Glière’s dark and foreboding Prelude. Harpist Karlinda Caldicott soloed in the Nocturne from David Watkins’ “Petite Suite,” which was very pretty and dreamy. Barker Schwartz, Kassarova, Caldicott and flutist Norman Thibodeau created more atmosphere in John Williams’ “Devil’s Dance” from the film “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987).

Tenor Timothy Reno joined Barker Schwartz, Kassarova, Caldicott, and violist Elizabeth Moll in the world premiere of Jeffrey Brody’s “Phantasmagoria,” based on three of Poe’s poems. The harmonies were lush and the melodies romantic and lyrical. Unfortunately, balances favored the strings, so Reno’s light voice didn’t project as well as could be.

Kassarova and Thibodeau had no problems in Villa-Lobos’ “The Jet Whistle.” As a show piece for the flute, Thibodeau’s tone shimmered while the cellist provided a ground for his flights of fancy.

Even better was Thibodeau’s own solo, “The Haunting of the Tower: Slippery Slope.” Using a special headjoint, Thibodeau swooned through cascading scales, trilled mightily and created a truly weird, creepy and sensational piece.

As the finale, everyone joined to expertly play Saint Saëns’ “Danse Macabre” with Taylor Devito’s “Dead Girl” video.

The next Musicians of Ma’alwyck concert will be “A Blissful Musick: Mozart as Muse” on Nov. 17.

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