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Chamber Music Society opens season in Saratoga Springs with adventurous program

Chamber Music Society opens season in Saratoga Springs with adventurous program

Group also announces new 3-year contract to perform in Saratoga Springs
Chamber Music Society opens season in Saratoga Springs with adventurous program
Pianist Michael Brown
Photographer: photo provided

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center opened its sixth season at the Spa Little Theatre Sunday afternoon with a program filled with works never performed on the series before. It made for an adventurous experience.

Pianist Michael Brown, who proved to be the glue that held together all the pieces performed, opened with Ravel’s “Jeux d’eau” (1901). Inspired by one of Versailles’ fountains, the work ripples and sparkles with sprays of notes in rainbows of color. Brown’s easy facility glistened with an elegance and grace.

He provided a sensitive partnership for flutist Adam Walker in two staples of the flute repertoire: Faure’s “Fantasy” (1898) and Poulenc’s Sonata (1956-57). Both pieces are filled with wonderful lyricism and many chances for the flutist to show off their technique. While Walker expertly capitalized on these moments when these chances appeared, it was the extreme amount of nuance that he brought to every phrase, dynamic and even specific notes that disrupted the flow. Rather than a silvery line, he moved in and out of the sound in such an idiosyncratic way that it brought attention on itself and away from the music. 

Although he played with feeling and musicality, his style was excessive. Had he only chosen to do what he did on occasion, much like adding a color or inflection, it would have provided interest or diversity. But not when done almost all the time.

Brown and cellist Nicholas Canellakis performed Lukas Foss’ ironic “Capriccio” (1946) that was a fling at a Western-style hoe-down with echoes of Aaron Copland. Canellakis, who smiled and was obviously having a good time playing, struck a brusque, edgy tone that was just right for this funny little piece. The large crowd got it, though, and people laughed indulgently.

Benjamin Britten’s Suite for Violin and Piano (1934-35) got a sensational reading from violinist Angelo Xiang Yu and Brown. Each of the five rather short movements was very different. Yu provided body English that only added to the show. He gave a big sound to the opening’s grand statement; flitted through the bits and pieces of the pointillistic second; emphasized the stray melodies among the abrasive sawings of the third; sighed and soared in the lullaby; and was sheer bravado in the deeply swirling waltz. The audience cheered, clapped enthusiastically, and jumped to its feet with a standing ovation.

Beethoven’s Trio in D Major (“Ghost”) (1808) with Brown, Canellakis and violinist Bella Hristova got an exuberant performance that showed off their close ensemble work. While the first movement is cheery with melodies and strong development and the third is sunny and buoyant, the second movement is dark, dramatic and enigmatic with unusual chord groupings. One wonders what Beethoven was thinking to create such contrasts.

The concert ended with a champagne toast and the announcement that CMSLC had signed a contract to commit to another three years at the theater. The next concert is Tuesday with works by Bach, Kodaly, and Spohr.

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