Norfolk Chamber Consort Presents Purcell and Britten

The 41st season opening program titled Two Great Britons was performed at Chandler Recital Hall on September 14, 2009. Henry Purcell (1659-1695) set a new standard of sensitivity to words and word-rhythms, achieving rare depths of emotion in his songs. Guest countertenor Chris Dudley sang Music for a while (from Oedipus, text by John Dryden). Though today the role is usually sung by a soprano, the role was written for a countertenor (1692). Filled with liberal word painting: the vocal line has a caressing little turn on “beguile”, “all” repeated at various pitches, the insistent, clashing half-step in an extended “eter-eternal” accompanied by a repeated ground bass played by Allen Shaffer on harpsichord. A lovely tune, expertly sung and played followed by the fresh, energetic Hark! Hark! The echoing air a triumph sings. The harpsichord accompanied with an Italian trumpet aria style. “Clap their wings” is made visible in the way it is set, florid phrase fragments on this sixteen-word text made for a very exciting experience!

The opening Sonata No.2 in D Major for trumpet and strings had such open exciting sound. The glorious, joyfulness of the overture gives way to a brief melancholy in the adagio. The triumphant march led by the trumpet brings the piece to completion. After intermission the players, Wendell Banyay on Baroque trumpet, violinists Anna Dobryzn and Pavel Ilyashov, violist Satoko Rickenbaker, cellist Leslie Fritelli and Mr. Shaffer at the harpsichord gave us Purcell Sonata No.1 in D Major with lovely string tones and glorious sound. Noticing how red the face of the trumpeter becomes as he plays reminded me of the first time I heard a Baroque trumpeter, Maurice André, circa 1967, I naively thought he must be drunk.

Mr. Shaffer played Suite in D minor for harpsichord, Z668, adding a fourth movement – Round O, ZT684. In a world of so much hype and noise it was refreshing to focus on one harpsichord, masterfully played.

Though Benjamin Britten, Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, Op.51 (1952) was written for alto Kathleen Ferrier, it was very effective with countertenor Dudley in the child's role. Joined by tenor Kerry Jennings as Abraham and Oksana Lutsyshyn at the piano, it is the tale of Abraham's faith being tested by God who asked that he sacrifice his own son. Abraham was willing to do God's bidding. Isaac's music is lyrical and the piano is almost too pretty as he is compliant with his father's will until he realizes, with a piano crescendo, that he, not a ram, is the sacrifice. In the Christian religion the parallel is that Abraham, like God, is willing to sacrifice his son. In this text Hebrew scriptures are revised and Abraham prays to Jesus. When the voices were in duet the sound was thrilling.

The Purcell Sonata No.1 began the last half of the program, followed by two Purcell songs sung by Mr. Dudley. I'll sail upon the dog-star was written as incidental music for a forgotten play, “A Fool's Preferment” (1688) and Britain, thou now art great (1685) with harpsichord and string accompaniment. The selections were new to me and were engagingly performed.

Returning to music by Britten, Nocturnal Op.70 (1963) for guitar has a quiet, refined but propulsive energy that holds the nine brief sections together on the recording we have. For each variation Britten takes a small fragment of John Dowland's song Come, heavy sleep and musically reflects upon it with considerable freedom. We hear the whole tune only at the end of the 8th, passacaglia, section as a balm to soothe the menace of an insistant, repeating, descending phrase used throughout the piece. This understated piece played by guitarist Timothy Olbrych did not work well in the flow of the recital. The introverted playing with loss of momentum at tuning pauses between each section did not add up to a satisfying experience.

It took the energetic playing of Invencia Piano Duo of the final selection in Britten's Introduction and Rondo alla burlesca Op.23, No.1 to get us back on track. Britten was living in the United States in November of 1940 when he wrote the piece for two British friends traveling and giving concerts in the U.S. At a January 6, 1941 concert the New York Herald Tribune critic “heard in the slow introduction the tragic fate which is overtaking the composer's native England. Tension and release is created by juxtaposition of major and minor modes. A descending figure of long notes is connected by a short value two note figure.”

The music is stately and technically demanding, unpretty. Kasparov and Lutsyshyn's precise playing with great brio brought back the energy of the evening, giving us listeners a new, challenging experience by a young composer (age 28) bent on conquering the music world.

An Extravaganza of Music and Dance
Presented by Norfolk Chamber Consort

A program on March first and second at Old Dominion University Theater titled Transformations was a huge undertaking for artisitc co-directors Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn that included seven pieces of contemporary music performed with visual enhancement, mostly dance.

Jose beFORe John5In opening remarks Dr. Kasparov encouraged us to evaluate each piece on the basis of completeness within the world created. He also thanked Fred Bayersdorfer for finding the resources for instruments for the colorful percussion piece José beFORe John5 (2000) by composer Aurél Holló (b.1966). Percussionists Dale Lazar, Bryan Maurer and Nikolas White began with clapping and stomping in out of phase rhythms. Soon, scintillating sound created on one marimba by two players, Mr.Lazar and Mr. Maurer, working together as the piece gained complexity enriched by Mr. White on crow call, tuned gongs and Devil chaser stick. Log drum, the hose-shaped Egyptian oboe (mismar), box drum, snare drum and Africa talking drums all added to the exotic sound. The choreography of making the music against a deep-blue lighted scrim added up to a rich experience. Drumsticks striking a slack-stringed guitar punctuated by other exotic percussion led to the dramatic ending.

The finale was a reprise of José beFORe John5. The instruments and the percussionists were tightly placed in the left corner of the stage to make room for the dancers. The choreography by Misses Duane, Foster and Steeley was an interesting project and you could see elements of each dance vocabulary in the actions on stage but visually it did not work for me. Uncoordinated diversity and incongruous combinations of percussionists and dancers were confusing to watch. Finally I gave up and focused on Nikolas White and the other percussionists. Dancing added no sense of completeness to a world created by the piece, just undefined boundaries, a hole where a completeness might have been. The dancing failed to capture the charm of the music.

The piano trio Concurrence by Ryuichi Sakamoto (b.1952) followed. Known for his film music, tonight's choreographic composition is based on his work Bibo no aozora (Endless Flight) and was used as ending music for 2006 film Babel. The trio in the left corner of the stage was made up of violinist Anna Dobrzyn, cellist Michael Frohnapfel and pianist Andrey Kasparov. In costumes by Clair Garrard, Amanda Kinzer and Megan Thompson danced to their own choreography. The two young women with flowing hair danced steps that looked like morning exercises as the lights created a feeling of sunrise. The music had a repeated brief figure in the violin with cocktail type lyric piano with cello. The musicians knew what their bodies were to do, the dancers seemed less clear. There were rag dolls posing and athletic twins moving together, where one sometimes seemed to be the shadow of the other.

Armenian composer Petros Ovsepyan (b.1966) was choreographer for his piece titled His (2009). The stage was dimly lit, with three performers dressed in black except flutist Bonnie Kim with a red sash and dancer Remmie Bourgeois in a red shirt, black pants and bare feet. A grand piano sat in the middle of the stage and the violinist Anna Dobrzyn stood nearby. The powerfully built dancer assumed the sturdy pose reminiscent of the sculpture “The Thinker” as the violin made occasional detached quiet scratching sounds. At other times we heard faint whistles from the flute but the sound of the air handler obscured the intent. Suddenly the dancer leaped in a chimpanzee-like way onto the top of the piano where he crouched looking pensive while the violin and flute created wild creature noises. In time he leaped to the floor still crouching then over several minutes rose slowly toward standing. His hand trembled with great effort. Finally upright, primordial first steps seemed about to happen with his body angled toward the flutist playing lyrically and with his back to us he seemed to be pushing against the piano as the lights went down. The human race is moving to high culture.

Choreographer Starrene Foster visually realized the many moods of the music of La Valse by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) arranged for piano, four hands by Andrey Kasparov and played by him and Oksana Lutsyshyn. Five dancers of the Star Foster Dance Project of Richmond combined classical and modern dance poses to good effect. The opening vignette of angular figures brightly back-lit with waltz movements reflected the Vienese sound in the piano. As the music deconstructs this classical form the dancers did the same. This experience was one of the two most enjoyable, focused dances of the evening. There was clarity, gracefulness and an imaginative connection to the muisc.

In Musique de Tables (1987) by Thierry de Mey (b.1956), David Walker, Dale Lazar and Bryan Mauer sit at a table facing the audience, lighted like three bergers from a Rembrandt painting. The music consisted of turning pages and striking the table with their hands. In-synch or by turn or complimentary motions created sound patterns with hands and fingers on a glass table top with camera below and images projected behind them as if we are seeing the three sets of hands reflected in a mirror with the faces looming in the background. The video projection was supervised by Stephen Pullen and the work was done by four of his talented students. With pages first turned sequentially, then in unison, there is choreography in every gesture. In this context it became an exciting event in the world created – complete within itself.

Written for the Diehn Concert Series, Clockworks (2009) by Christopher Cook (b.1962) is a rich, sonic piece built from intimate recordings of grandfather clocks, alarm clocks, digital watches, Westminster chimes, all sorts of timepieces, manipulated by computer. Sounds were compressed, stretched and otherwise twisted to become unrecognizable. These yielded rhythmic grooves that were brought vividly to life by six dancers (Jay Ambrose, Kevin Carroll, Julie Champagne, Carrie Moseley, Tamika Steeley and Elizabeth Zamer). The dancers' tunics had strategically placed holes – some large, others very large with finished hems - that punctuated the visuals of movement. The costumer was not credited in the program. For the men a rectangle of colorful fabric suggested ties and added to the hip-hop exuberant movement by Tamika Steeley.

Ms. Dobrzyn played The Red Violin Caprices (1999) with accuracy and style. Composer John Corigliano (b.1938) won an Oscar for the piece for the score for the film The Red Violin. Beverly Cordova Duane designed the dances in collaboration with the performers, Mr. Bourgois, Ms. Steeley and David A. Smith, who also designed the costumes. The violinist was asked to mill around and be part of the dance; this is the opposite of how I understand dance. Dance to me is bodies in space being used to create a visual impact coordinated with the emotion, mood or action in the music. By this definition this piece made no sense. I did not get the connnection between flopping onto and writhing on the floor and this film. I'm sure there must be some modern dance movements that could enhance this music.

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