Reviews ...

New England String Ensemble Chamber Group Triumphs


Jackie Wattenberg

It was an evening of musical enchantment and discovery: The New England String Ensemble's special concert, "Virtuosi with Gilbert Kalish, piano," last Friday, Mar. 10.

Though based in Wakefield, the NESE has several members who live in Melrose and also play in the Melrose Symphony Orchestra and other city musical groups.

The night brought a blustery return to winter after the preceding day's summery 70s. But the warmth of the gold-encircled First Parish Church of Wakefield and the sheer beauty of a trio of superb musicians warmed the souls of the listeners, even perhaps elevating their souls a few notches.

The renowned pianist Gilbert Kalish and the ensemble's principal cellist, Emmanuel Feldman, opened with Debussy's Sonata in D Minor. Here was a chance to fully hear the burnished beauty of Feldman's cello that we have glimpsed briefly in ensemble orchestral performances.

The D minor sonata is not at all Clair de Luneish, indeed much more "modern," daring and inventive than the lovely impressionistic music of Debussy. Written in 1915, three years before he died, the piece reflects Debussy's distress and rage at World War I. For these reasons, it is compelling to hear, especially as so dramatically presented by Kalish and Feldman.

The pianist had powerful control and projection of the work's turbulence and quicksilver shifts in mood and thematic ideas. Feldman's cello, which is very full-bodied and dark-umber toned, ran a unique gamut of forceful slashing, mimicking a plucked guitar, high-pitched screech for a flute, even trying for the impact of a tambourine. There were also lush near-weeping strains along with passages marked to be played "nervously" or "ironically," all duly noted.

There seemed to be a rewarding synergy between pianist and cellist that provided a triumphant reading of this astonishing work, matching Debussy's passion with their own.

Then they were joined by the ensemble's principal violinist, Gregory Vitale, often highlighted in their performances with impressive solos, in performing Dvorak's Trio No. 4 in E Minor, dubbed the "Dumkey."

Dvorak, most moving in these smaller chamber works, here offers six movements instead of the traditional three or four, with wonderful variety of tempo, mood themes, and changes of key. Program notes told us that one of the first cellists to play the work was Victor Herbert, a friend of the composer when in this country. This was in 1891, when Herbert was a recognized cellist, later to become more famous for his operettas.

The three top-form musicians meshed beautifully here. Vitale sensitive as his colleagues in nuances expressing Dvorak's entrancing melodies. Dvorak's ever-resourceful creativity brings new development, an absorbing fabric of mood - thoughtful, reflective, romantic, often poignant and endlessly beguiling.

Somewhat disturbing were a couple of vociferous, forte coughers, and a fussy heating unit clinking out of rhythm.

Back a bit in time, the final work was Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat Major composed in 1842, and the first piano quintet on record. On stage came two more fine principals of the ensemble, violost Jennifer Stirling and second violinist Colin Davis. All voices brought out the alternating spirits of the four movements: the eloquent dirge, the bright and happy allegro, the bravura of the scherzo, lots of opportunity for the brilliant cascades of Kalish. A strain of fugal jousting focused on each player, each having moments to shine throughout, with resounding climaxes and still the poetic, introspective packages expressively intoned.

How valuavble it would be to have a resident quartet (quintet, trio possibilities) for our Melrose-Wakefield area. This rare concert proved a winner with its large audience, rising to applaud and call the players again and again.

March 17, 2000

Originally published
in THE MELROSE FREE PRESS, Mar. 16, 2000
Reprinted here with the permission of the Melrose Free Press,

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