Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 13, 2021

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Concert #1

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA

Through May 21, 2021

by Michael J. Moran


Following short weekly “Homegrown” videos of themselves performing individually at home and several lecture/music education events via Zoom, SSO musicians have now launched a series of three hour-long chamber music concerts. The first one, filmed at Focus Springfield Community TV and available for on-demand streaming at the SSO web site through May 21, featured three SSO ensembles: a string trio; a string quartet; and a percussion trio.


SSO Music Director Kevin Rhodes introduced each piece with his trademark ebullience, noting how happy the musicians were to be playing together after a year apart. Program notes by the performers offered additional background information. Since they couldn’t observe his 250th birthday anniversary in live performances last year, the first three pieces were early works by Beethoven.


The string trio (violinist Beth Welty, violist Noralee Walker, and cellist Joel Wolfe) started with a robust, sinewy account of the energetic opening movement of the 23-year-old composer’s first string trio, which already sounded bigger than similar works by his older contemporaries. The string quartet (violinists Masako Yanagita and Marsha Harbison, violist Delores Thayer, and cellist Boris Kogan) next presented an intense, urgent rendition of the dramatic first movement of Beethoven’s fourth string quartet, written with growing maturity five years later.


The percussion trio (Martin Kluger, Nathan Lassell, and Robert McEwan) then played Kluger’s imaginative arrangement for two marimbas and nine other percussion instruments of the somber slow movement from Beethoven’s fourth piano sonata. The result was surprisingly delicate and ethereal, with the main themes played on the marimbas, and the non-pitched instruments supplying what Kluger calls “sustain” and “depth” contrast.


The string trio returned with a lilting performance of Zoltan Kodaly’s brief 1905 “Intermezzo for String Trio,” reflecting the folk music he was then collecting in his native Hungary. The concert ended with the world premiere of Kluger’s own “Sudoku 75” for three percussionists, each playing nine instruments. Inspired by the number puzzle which Kluger began playing daily during the pandemic, the gradually accelerating piece brought the program to an exuberant close.


Acoustics were intimate and clear, while the videography mixed group shots with revealing close-ups of the masked and distantly spaced musicians.

April 6, 2021

REVIEW: Close Encounters with Music, Sebastians Baroque Ensemble

Close Encounters with Music, Great Barrington, MA
April 3, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

Like many other musical organizations, Close Encounters with Music has pivoted from live chamber music concerts at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington to virtual presentations during the Covid pandemic. Their latest program, recorded without an audience on the Mahaiwe stage, featured the New York-based Sebastians Baroque Ensemble and is available on the CEWM web site.

Introductory remarks by CEWM Artistic Director and cellist Yehuda Hanani contrasted the Baroque era’s “serene certitude of an orderly cosmos” with the past year, when we’ve become “unmoored by the pandemic.” Sebastians violinists Daniel Lee and Nicholas DiEugenio, cellist Ezra Seltzer, contrabassist Nathaniel Chase, traverso flutist David Ross, and harpsichordist Jeffrey Grossman opened the concert with Johann Sebastian Bach’s fifth Brandenburg Concerto. A lively opening “Allegro,” highlighted by Grossman’s “Dionysian, orgiastic” solo (in Hanani’s words), was followed by an intimate “Affettuoso” and a romping “Allegro” finale.

Hanani then joined Grossman in an alternately soulful (in the two Largos) and stirring (in the two Allegros) account of Antonio Vivaldi’s fifth sonata for cello and harpsichord. Lee, DiEugenio, Seltzer, and Grossman were stately or spirited in the four short movements of Nicola Porpora’s sixth “Sinfonia Da Camera.” Ross was a buoyant soloist, with sprightly support from Lee, Seltzer, and Grossman, in a flute quartet by Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel.

A brief overture by Vivaldi, with three one-minute movements, whirled past in an urgent rendition by the four string players and Grossman. The concert closed with an elegant interpretation of George Frederick Handel’s “Trio Sonata in G Minor” by Seltzer, Lee, DiEugenio, and Grossman. In a post-concert conversation with Hanani, the latter three musicians were hopeful that music-making will bring “something better” after the pandemic, including “more options” for live and virtual performances.  

While Brandenburg Five might have been more effective dramatically as a concert closer than as an opener, the program was an enlightening overview of Baroque music, combining more and less familiar pieces. The last CEWM virtual concert of the current season, “Felix, Fanny and Frederic: Chopin and the Mendelssohns,” will stream live on April 25 at 7:30pm.