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Chamber Music Marathon at Bard

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Fri Dec 9th, 2016

This past Friday afternoon, Bard College performed its annual Chamber Music Day, an epic eight-hour production of student chamber music at the Lázló-Bitó Building. I was only able to attend four hours of music. Arriving slightly late, I regretfully missed Fyodor Shiryaev and companions perform Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor, op. 57.

I was struck by the wonderful Romantic tone that Joseph Burke produced in Brahms’ Sonata for Viola in E-flat major, op. no. 2. Burke appeared to know the piece by heart and barely ever glanced at the score. He played with marvelous interior expressivity on the viola.

Eloquent phrasing emerged from Chang Pan’s cello in Beethoven’s variations on a theme from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. JongSun Woo on piano played with graceful force as she alternated with lead and support. Both were tightly in sync. Jesse Goldberg and Juliana Briense offered a more comic contrast with Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F major, K497, which is a delightful four-hand piece.  An all-horn quintet played Sonatine by Eugene Bozza (1905-1991), which opened with an ominous and mysterious tuba yet concluded with comic brio. Aidan Zimmerman on tuba and Ainta Toth on trumpet were especially good.

Faculty member Raman Ramakrishnan joined two students for Dvořák’s “Dumky,” Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, op. 90. This special performance was underwritten by a grant bequest to Bard College from Stanley Kasparek. This performance was a notable notch upward. Obviously well-rehearsed, with Zongheng Zhang (depicted on front page teaser) playing violin with ringing immediacy and enthusiastic zest while accompanied by Yichun Wu on a piano that rang with both crisp clarity and fluid rhythm, all three melded into a Romantic landscape of brilliant intensity with deep evocation of personal memories.

No less forceful and bright was faculty member Robert Martin on cello, accompanied by Xinran Li on violin and Adam Zsolt Szokolay on piano. They performed Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, op. 49. Together they plumbed the emotional depths that only Mendelssohn can reach with such emotional profundity and heartfelt melody. They brought out the formal balance and psychological breadth of one of Mendelssohn’s great Romantic masterpieces, written at the apex of his powers.

 This was a hard act to follow, yet John Belk on cello delivered precise lyrical lines in Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, D. 821.  This was followed by String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major, op 18 by Brahms. This Romantic favorite was performed by Bihan Li and Avery Morris on violin, Yushi Pan and Alexzandra Morris on viola, and Chang Pan and Raman Ramakrishnan on cello. United, they pushed Romantic pulse and swell to the limit without ever reaching the saccharine.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, op. 32 on the program. When I was passing through Moscow in 1996 to adopt children, I was on the lookout for some Arensky recordings. My guide called the three largest recording stores and came up empty, but I found a Melodiya label disk in the remainder sale bin of a small store. Arensky remains late Romantic, yet I found pleasure in the echoing comic Scherzo, sincere lament in the Elegia, and authentic pleasure in the excitement of recollection in the brimming Finale. Georgo Toth on violin bestowed lyrical dignity while Corey Chang on piano produced a fluid sound with continuous notes and keyboard runs while Kaila Piscitelli on cello provided resonant background.

A Trio for Oboe, Flute, and Piano by Madeleine Dring (1923-77) gave a light-hearted conclusion. In the first movement Clara Kempter ably led on flute, while in the second movement Amy Cassiere led on oboe. This short, upbeat piece concluded the second of the events' four-part epic session.