Old Lyme — This was not your father's chamber music program: No Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn or Schubert. Not a whiff of Vienna hung in the air.
Yet as pianist Jeewon Park glanced over her shoulder to smile at her confreres in the powerful closing measures of Ravel's Piano Trio Saturday night, the ensemble taut as a coiled spring, the opening concert of the Musical Masterworks season proved once again what a bottomless well of delights this world can offer.
The start of the 10-concert season at the First Congregational Church, a program to be repeated at 3 p.m. Sunday, took four talented musicians and an appreciative audience on a journey through four centuries, with the accent on the last 100 years. A concert that included a fine piece by a composer who has performed in the series several times, the exciting performances remind us that classical music is as wide and as new as our scope of vision can absorb.
Pianist Park was very much at the center of this lively program. The wife of Masterworks' Artistic Director (and resident cellist) Edward Arron, Park seemingly was denied a rest through the five musical works. Her sense of dynamics, coloristic effects and sheer delight carried the evening and supported the virtuosity of three musicians with whom she shared the stage.
The concert opened with Bach's Trio Sonata from "The Musical Offering," one section of a unique, 50-minute contrapuntal exploration of a single theme, before concluding with the Ravel trio, a compressed, yet never rushed classic from 1914 that became an instant bedrock of the repertoire. In his introduction, Arron called the Bach "a true jigsaw puzzle" — it includes "riddle fugues" for the musicians to solve — but the riddles of themes and counter-themes were quickly solved when the ensemble of Arron, Park, flutist Tara Helen O'Connor and violinist Steven Copes exposed these elements like a revelation in the second movement allegro.
The Bach set the scene for Alfred Schnittke's 1992 "Musica Nostalgica" for Cello and Piano, a poignant neo-Baroque musing performed with great affection by Arron and Park. At his best, Schnittke touches audiences deeply with his affection and sorrow for lost innocence, and Saturday's performance was heartfelt, creating the arc that joined the millennia.
Flutist O'Connor was given a showpiece in Kenji Bunch's 2006 "Velocity" for flute and piano, and she made the most of it. Grinning in anticipation, she moved a floor lamp close to her music stand to start, and she proceeded to amaze the audience with lightning-quick bursts of arpeggios that blurred into chords, while retaining a sweet musicality. Her ability to transform the unresolved long phrase of the slow central section into a lovely lyrical song as it became animated called on far more than technique. She and Park shared a provocative glee in the piercing ostinato of the score, written by a violist who performed in this series several times.
Martinu's gleefully Parisian and jazzy Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano, with some wonderfully vocal duets by O'Connor and Copes and some fine blues from Park, set the stage for the Ravel trio.
From the opening measures of the Ravel, magic was in the air. The unhurried and ethereal piano theme by Park leading to the dry-eyed (and dry-bowed) beauties of the string unisons by Copes and Arron promised great pleasures that were delivered. Copes made his Masterworks debut, and his keen sensitivity to ensemble and glittering sound in the often vibrato-free passages make him a welcome addition to the Masterworks family.
But Ravel was an innovator at the keyboard, and Park channeled his signature coloristic effects and elegance to charm, soothe and propel the trio performance to a standing ovation. From the old to the new, from the obscure to the heart of the repertoire, Saturday's concert rewarded its audience's devotion.