Feature Review: Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – English Musical Renaissance 1900-1930 (2)

Written by: Timothy Hutto

Goossens

Four Sketches for Flute, Violin and Piano, Op.5 – Romance & Humoreske

Ireland

The Land of Lost Content

Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor

Bax

Elegiac Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp

Vaughan Williams

On Wenlock Edge

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center:

Russell Thomas (tenor)

Ransom Wilson (flute)

Ida Kavafian & Susie Park (violins)

David Kim (viola)

Fred Sherry (cello)

Gilbert Kalish (piano)

Jacqui Kerrod (harp)

Alice Tully Hall, New York City

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Eugene Goossens’s ‘Romance’ and ‘Humoreske’ from Four Sketches proved a somewhat odd and not altogether appropriate opening to this performance. The ‘Romance’ begins with the piano and occasional seemingly random interjections from the violin and flute. It was difficult to ascertain the intended musical effect. Perhaps if the two other movements had been included it would have made more sense. As presented it gave the effect of starting in mid-sentence. The ‘Humoreske’ is folk-like in character and was easier to comprehend, though it suffered some balance problems built into the score, as the flute part is often written in a lower register than the violin. As presented the two movements gave the impression that Four Sketches is a slight work.

There followed a setting of the poetry of A. E. Housman by John Ireland titled “The Land of Lost Content”. The young American tenor, Russell Thomas, sang in a full, rich voice. Hopefully as he gains more experience, he will begin to vary the voice more to further communicate the nuances of the text. His diction was also odd at times – the words ‘sure’ and ‘should’, for example, were virtually indistinguishable. The pianist, Gilbert Kalish, was sometimes rather blunt in his playing – especially early on – but in later songs created coloristic tone painting effects.

Ireland’s Second Sonata for Violin and Piano is a work from 1915-17. After a brief expository presentation by the piano, the violin picks up the angular melody. There follows a more lyrical section which allowed violinist Kavafian to play with a more expansive tonal quality. The development section included impressive delicate and soft playing from both Kavafian and pianist Kalish. As performed, the movement ended rather inconclusively and abruptly. The second movement features folk-like melodies and was performed more convincingly. The third, curiously, seemed to be a reminiscence of the first two. The first theme is stormy and angular like the opening of the first movement and the second is folk-like as in the second movement. Unfortunately, the effect was rather of two disparate parts patched together.

The music programmed after the intermission proved to be both more engaging and performed with more assurance. Bax’s Elegiac Trio, from 1916, featured the exceptionally virtuosic and sensitive harpist Jacqueline Kerrod, who drew many different tonal colors from her instrument. Violist David Kim played with sumptuous tone and an exceptionally even quality from the lowest to highest registers. The interplay between the instruments was fascinating to follow. Although it has been done many times, the effect of using double stops in the viola creates the effect of a fourth musician. By choosing viola rather than violin as part of his trio, Bax was able to take advantage of the viola’s lower register to contrast with the flute.

The final piece on the concert, Ralph Vaughan Williams’s song-cycle “On Wenlock Edge”, received the most committed performance of the evening. The string quartet, especially Fred Sherry on cello and David Kim on viola, as well as pianist Kalish, brought out the word-painting Vaughan Williams has written into the score. Thomas again sang with a full, resonant tone quality and here exhibited a more natural diction than in the Ireland songs. It was difficult to tell if this is because of better vocal writing on the part of the composer or greater familiarity by the singer. Thomas showed a strong connection with the audience through eye contact, though some of the emotions in the songs were communicated more by facial expression rather than by vocal coloration. It is curious, however, that none of his colleagues or his vocal coach pointed out that “Thames” should not be pronounced as “tames”!

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