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Musical Swerve

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Mar 5th, 2017

Denise Jordan Finley and Matt Finley

Struck by an early onset of Spring Fever, I ventured out into cold winds this past Saturday. A “Collaborative Piano Fellows Recital” at Bard College’s Bitó Building promised piano fun. Jesse Goldberg and Juliana Briense Jorge opened with Mozart’s frolicking “Sonata for Piano Four Hands in F major, K. 497. Composed in in the summer of 1786, probably for Franziska von Jacquin, a singer and pupil of Mozarts’ at the Jocquin household (and most likely performed for parlor entertainment in that household), Goldberg and Briense captured the breezy playfulness of Mozart’s winding rhythms.

Wei Zhou and Szu-Ying Huang gracefully collaborated on Franz Schubert’s “Variations on an Original Theme,” Op. 35, D. 813. Here eight variations in A-flat major, composed in Hungary during the summer of 1824 when Schubert was 27, offered delightful contrasts and agile arpeggio runs, demonstrating his early witty genius with a tune that appears simple yet grows more complex in errant embellishment.

Yumi Nomoto and Jingwen Tu (pictred in teaser photo) waxed vigorously poetic with Claude Debussy’s “Petite Suite,” capturing peculiar playfulness, sudden swerving, and inspirational rhythmic panache that varied from interior musings to brash public entertainment. They maintained the patina of Debussy’s elegant tone with affectionate ease. I was especially thrilled by their bravura performance in capturing Debussy’s wry and confident humor.    

Frank Corliss, director of Bard’s postgraduate collaborative fellows program, and Bethany Pietronio put the more extroverted “Le Grand Tango” of Astor Piazzolla through its galloping cubist paces that climax in two pianos achieving an orchestral resonance guaranteed to induce a smile on the most obtuse of listeners and conjure wonder at what two pianos can accomplish with such a seemingly simple tune.

This concert was an exercise in how the seemingly simple might be much more complex and pleasurable than a first listen might indicate. It was all sunny, sprightly Spring inside the music hall while outside Winter whined with its last bluffing, huffing gasps.

About eight miles away in Kingston at the Unitarian Church, Denise Jordan Finley was headlining a concert of the Hudson River Folk Guild. I have several of her recordings and am particularly fond of her last cd, Girl on the Rhythm Guitar, an album of narrative Americana that transcends the country music style with a fresh French cabaret approach. Encouraging the audience to sing along with her in a French refrain with English lyrics, half the audience of about 50 managed to reprise their high school French. (Having neglected my French for so long, all I can do is untangle a French poem with a dictionary.)

Finley’s recordings don’t have a typical studio sound—they prize that live sound atmosphere which some French labels, like Transart Live, strive to effect. Yes, she sounds exactly like her album recordings which don’t feature technology cheats. It was a treat to hear a favorite local singer and accomplished solo steel guitarist live when I had listened numerous times to her albums while driving in indifferent weather, and yes, she did perform a couple of songs she had written that were not on her albums. Jazz trumpeter and composer Matt Finley accompanied her on a couple of tunes and he premiered a new Cuban-style jazz number that he had just completed that morning.