Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 27, 2020

REVIEW: South Windsor Cultural Arts, Alexi Kenney & Renana Gutman

Wood Memorial Library & Museum, South Windsor, CT
February 23, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

Alexi Kenney
The opening measures of Mozart’s rare two-movement Sonata, K. 304, told the capacity audience at South Windsor’s historic Wood Memorial Library that they were hearing a major talent in 26-year-old California-born violinist Alexi Kenney, eloquently supported by Israeli-American pianist Renana Gutman, his frequent recital partner since he first met her as a student ten years ago.

In helpfully engaging pre-concert remarks, Kenney had identified “lost love” as the unifying theme of this imaginative program’s five works. The recent death of his mother was palpable in Mozart’s somber opening “Allegro” and restrained “Tempo di minuetto.” The dark, rich tone of each musician’s instrument gave both movements tragic weight and solemn beauty.

The final movement, for violin and piano, “Praise to the Immortality of Jesus,” from Messiaen’s 1941 “Quartet for the End of Time,” written while he was a French prisoner of war in German captivity, next portrayed divine love for humanity, even to the point of death. Kenney and Gutman performed this ethereal music with luminous intensity.

Schubert’s Variations on “Trockne Blumen [Withered Flowers],” the eighteenth song in his cycle “Die Schone Mullerin [The Miller’s Daughter],” followed in an arrangement for violin and piano that Kenney had argued works as well as the original for flute and piano. The duo’s dramatic account of this virtuosic 22-minute showpiece, which traces a forsaken lover’s surrender in death to his beloved’s rejection, made it hard to disagree.

After Kenney’s post-intermission comments introducing the program’s second half, he joined Gutman in an evocative rendering of Stravinsky’s arrangement for violin and piano of a plaintive aria from his opera “The Nightingale” in which the bird restores his beloved master, a Chinese emperor, to life.

Enescu’s 25-minute third sonata, subtitled “in the popular Rumanian style,” depicts the composer’s love for his homeland as remembered forty years after his lost childhood. Kenney and Gutman played its three challenging movements with technical finesse, rhapsodic nostalgia, and deep sensitivity to its mystical rapture.

An encore performance of Clara Schumann’s first Romance, a tender birthday tribute to her composer-husband, Robert, shifted the concert’s focus from lost to found love and brought it to a ravishing close in the mellow Wood acoustics. SWCA, a nonprofit, volunteer-supported organization, has sponsored this free concert series for 39 years.