Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Curious Flights: An English Portrait

Last weekend I attended a cozy evening of mid-20th century English music, presented by the concert series Curious Flights. Every piece required a different configuration of performers, ranging from a nearly 30-member chorus, to a piano duo, to a 10-piece chamber orchestra, & I wondered if musicians were going to outnumber the audience. Soprano Julie Adams opened the program with 6 songs by John Ireland. Her voice was rich & ear-filling, & she had nice coloration in "My Fair" & fitting comic punctuation in "The Scapegoat." Pianist Miles Graber's accompaniment was sober & dark-hued.

Clarinetist Brenden Guy & a string quartet drawn from One Found Sound sold me on Howells's Rhapsodic Quintet. The quartet's playing was smooth & balanced, & the clarinet was restrained & always blended well with the strings. 1st violinist Christopher Whitley made a sweet sound. The musicians all listened closely to one another, & their performance had lovely instrumental textures & was sweeping.  St. Dominic's Schola Cantorum, a community choir, were impressively firm & neat in their 3 songs. I liked the clear sopranos & the solidity of the tenors. It was fun hearing the individuality of the folksy solos in Britten's The Shepherd Carol, & the chorus's climactic chords were powerful without being merely loud.

Pianists Peter Grunberg & Keisuke Nakagoshi were cool under pressure in Arnold Bax's demanding Sonata for Two Pianos. Mr. Nakagoshi's playing was vivid & virtuosic, & Mr. Grunberg was a piano-playing machine, efficient & sleek. Their synchronization was precise, & the audience spontaneously applauded the busy 1st movement. The evening ended with a brisk performance of Britten's youthful Sinfonietta, Op1. The 10 instrumentalists followed conductor John Bailey's sharp gestures closely, & the ensemble was bright & somewhat aggressive.

The atmosphere was amiable & felt like a gathering of friends. The performers made sure that Mr. Guy, the event's prime mover, took the final bow of the evening. The stage crew were quick in rearranging the stage between numbers. The clicking of a camera shutter throughout the 2nd half was distracting.

§ Curious Flights
An English Portrait

John Ireland: Songs Sacred and Profane
            Julie Adams, soprano
            Miles Graber, piano

Herbert Howells: Rhapsodic Quintet, Op. 31
            Brenden Guy, clarinet
            One Found Sound, string quartet
            Christopher Whitley, violin
            George Hayes, violin
            Danny Sheu, viola
            Laura Gaynon, cello

Gerald Finzi: My Spirit Sang All Day
Benjamin Britten: The Shepherd Carol
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Valiant For Truth
            St. Dominic’s Schola Cantorum
            Simon Berry, music director

Arnold Bax: Sonata for Two Pianos
            Peter Grunberg, piano
            Keisuke Nakagoshi, piano

Britten: Sinfonietta, Op. 1
            Curious Flights Chamber Ensemble
            John Kendall Bailey, conductor
            Tess Varley, violin
            Baker Peeples, violin
            Jason Pyszkowski, viola
            Natalie Raney, cello
            Eugene Theriault, double bass
            Bethanne Walker, flute
            Jesse Barrett, oboe
            Brenden Guy, clarinet
            Kristopher King, bassoon
            Mke Shuldes, horn

Saturday, August 29, 2015, 8 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Sol Joseph Recital Hall

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