Saratoga Springs

Music review: ‘Hope and beauty’ return via classical works

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center season at SPAC opened Sunday with concerts at Pitney Meadows in Saratoga Springs, featuring, on stage, Stella Chen, left, Bella Hristova, center, and Misha Amory.
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The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center season at SPAC opened Sunday with concerts at Pitney Meadows in Saratoga Springs, featuring, on stage, Stella Chen, left, Bella Hristova, center, and Misha Amory.

On Sunday evening at Pitney Meadows Community Farm, Wu Han said it all.

“So we’re back,” she said with a laugh to a crowd gathered to hear the second of the two opening concerts of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s summer season. A 3 p.m. concert had been given earlier that day.

Co-artistic directors Wu Han and David Finckel, Elizabeth Sobol from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Suzanne Davidson, executive director of CMSLC, greeted roughly 120 people ready to enjoy one of the first live concerts of the classical season.

“The musicians are so excited to be back onstage to a live audience,” Wu Han said. “We draw hope and beauty from the music. I’m in heaven.”

The setting could not have been more pastoral: An outdoor wind tunnel with the sides open to view green meadows and to catch a gentle breeze.

Clothespins were in high demand to keep musicians’ music on the stands. The stage was at the western end. No plane or traffic noises. People seated in pods of two set well apart and not having to wear a mask once seated. It was a comfortable and easy listening experience with only a small amount of amplification for the people farther from the stage. Overall the sound quality was excellent.

There were only two works on the program, which lasted about 75 minutes.

The first was Antonin Dvorak’s “Terzetto in C, Op. 74” (1887) for two violins and viola played exuberantly by violinists Stella Chen and Bella Hristova, and violist Misha Amory.

The four movements were varied and filled with Dvorak’s signature lyrical melodies and intricate part writing. Harmonies were close. The opening introduction was quick, with the parts often dovetailing that led to the larghetto, which was slower and more contemplative. The scherzo and the short minuet had the strings plucking in a festive mood. The finale’s theme and variations were all drama: slow, strong statements that swirled into edged intensity to end with fire. The crowd’s reaction gave the trio reason for extra bows.

Anthony McGill, the principal clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic, made his debut on this series in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major (1791), assisted by Chen, Hristova, Amory and cellist Sihao He. McGill introduced the piece and said it had been written for one of Mozart’s great friends, clarinetist Anton Stadler. An interesting note was that the third movement had two trios in which the first one did not involve the clarinet.

“Maybe Anton had something else to do or took a walk into the ballroom,” McGill said with a laugh. “It gave the other four players a chance to show off.”

The four-movement work is an inspired masterpiece and one of great beauty with mellifluous, often tender lines, wonderful part writing and a quality of great charm. The five musicians made the most of all of this and gave a superb reading.

McGill was particularly impressive. He’s a subtle musician who shades his volumes, nuances his phrases from entrances to finished edges, all supported with a clean and precise technique and a round burnished sound. The ensemble work was completely blended, with everything flowing, soaring where appropriate, and phrases having plenty of lift and air.

The crowd was especially appreciative.

The next concerts in this series are at 3 and 6 p.m. Sunday, featuring music of Beethoven and Schumann. Wu Han said that although the series is sold out, organizers are considering putting in extra seating outside the tent down the sides. Check with www.spac.org to see if that’s possible.

Categories: Entertainment

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