Monday night at Schenectady County Community College’s Chamber Music Series was almost a happening. Unlike the typical concert on the series, the program featured various groups of players in some very interesting and rarely performed works, as well as the final scene from Purcell’s only opera “Dido and Aeneas.” The selections themselves made for some fascinating listening for the large crowd.
The concert began with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 with flutist Kristin Stewart, Mark Evans on piano rather than harpsichord and members of the Hyperion String Quartet. Tempos were brisk and buoyant and balances were good. The captivating interchanges between the flute and violinist Amanda Brin were done well and Evans’ substantial solo cadenza was fluid and even.
The second slow movement with the flute, violin and piano was a bit off. Rather than solid, flowing lines with spun out endings, Stewart and Brin opted for an unusual amount of detached notes, dropped endings and attention to specific groupings within a phrase. Instead of melodic lines, the listener heard an emphasis on articulation. The finale was much better as to flow and showing off Bach’s genius for counterpoint.
The Hyperion played Puccini’s “Crisantemi” (1890), which was a dark, melancholy and very operatic elegy. It’s no wonder Puccini recast it in at least three of his later operas, most notably “Manon Lescaut” (1893). The quartet produced a mellow tone and bent to the task, but they seemed too careful — as if worried about making mistakes.
Oboist Karen Hosmer worked with three of the Hyperion in Britten’s “Phantasy Quartet.” Written during his student days in 1932, it’s an odd little piece with the oboe either sailing over spare strings or interjecting comments to the strings’ edgier passages. Hosmer’s oboe sounded exotic here.
Mezzo-soprano Lucille Beer sang Purcell’s “Lord, What is Man” with dark, husky tones, excellent English diction and a focused passion. She spun out the long lines like golden threads. Mark Evans provided a basic continuo at the harpsichord.
The final palace scene from the Purcell opera was amazingly effective, although it’s more than 300 years since it was written. With a student chorus of 11 singers, a small continuo ensemble and students as Belinda (Rebecca Breen) and Aeneas (Joshua Palagyi), Beer was eloquent. Her eyes blazed, her voice ached with longing and sorrow. Palagyi managed to match some of those passions. Her famous last aria had all the atmosphere of grand opera. All eyes were on Beer as she took her exit. And she wasn’t even in costume.
The next concert on the series is March 7 with the Finger Lakes Guitar Quartet.