Musical Masterworks offers autumnal selection to warm hearts

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Old Lyme — Musical Masterworks kicked off its 28th season Saturday with a concert calculated to warm the hearts of the 150 or so who filled the majestical First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.

And that's just what artistic director Edward Arron and a trio of other fine musicians infused during a two-hour concert that will be replicated at 3 p.m. Sunday in the acoustic-friendly church. Arron called it an autumnal concert, a season he particularly associates with Antonin Dvorak, composer of two works performed on the night.

"It's always wonderful to walk out on this stage," said Arron, who was recognized for his 10th season as artistic director of Musical Masterworks.

Arron praised the rich colors that Dvorak manages to wring out of his beautiful harmonies, which on this night were full of wistful and nostalgic undertones. The first Dvorak piece on the night, "Silent Woods for Cello and Piano," Op. 68, No. 5, started as a slow and moody legato, and Arron on cello played it with the sweetness and tenderness of a lullaby, his hands and furrowed eyebrows seemingly working in perfect harmony.

For the night's second work, Arron invited on stage the full ensemble: Orion Weiss on piano, Carmit Zori on violin and Mark Holloway on viola, to play a rarely heard elegy by Rebecca Clarke titled "Dumka: Duo Concertante for Violin, Viola and Piano." He noted that Clark, British by birth, spent time in the United States after World War II approached, as a resident of Connecticut.

It immediately was apparent that this quartet is a tight-knit group of amazingly talented musicians with a special affinity for one another's playing. They took the piece by storm, ringing out every bit of romantic highs and lows from the pretty melodies and intricate harmonies.

The second Dvorak piece on the night, just before intermission, was the Piano Quartet in D Major, Op. 23, a rarely played work and a Musical Masterworks first, according to Arron.

"It's not the barn burner that the other piano quartet is," he said.

While Dvorak's second piano quartet is much more popular, this is a major find, a rollicking and expansive work with danceable melodies and a warm, convivial vibe.

As Arron said, "There are not so many piano quartets, but the ones that exist are absolute treasures."

And perhaps the biggest treasure was saved for last. Gabriel Faure's Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 15, penned right after a broken engagement, is a workhorse of the repertoire but, in the hands of Arron and company, it reached a romantic pinnacle.

Perhaps the most emotive piece of the evening, it had each of the quartet in their own musical zone, Zori rising up as she tossed off her rising violin runs; Holloway leaning into each note on the viola and Weiss mouthing the melody as his hands ran up and down the piano keys. The great thing about the playing was how each individual instrument added a new texture to the piece rather than being imitative of one another.

The devastating third movement was particularly heartbreaking, the understated lament of the melody seeming to produce a palpable sigh and cry from the stringed instruments as the piano offered a harplike counterpoint.

The final, fourth movement, taken breathtakingly fast, brought fervent and anguished moments but also a hint of resolve as the piece built to a more optimistic mood introduced by the viola motive and completed with a crowd-pleasing flourish. The audience signaled its approval with a well-deserved standing ovation after a night of exemplary playing and a program so warmly received that those in attendance can't wait for the next contemporary Musical Masterworks program Nov. 9 in Centerbrook.


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