Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

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.