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Review: Masterworks starts its season in Old Lyme with dramatic fashion

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Old Lyme — Saturday’s trio of musicians at Musical Masterworks offered something of a delayed encore of one of the chamber music series’ most memorable concerts, reuniting pianist Jeewon Park, violinist Tessa Lark and series artistic director and cellist Edward Arron.

In February 2013, when two of three scheduled musicians were forced to cancel here, Lark and Park were last-minute subs — and became central to a thrilling musical experience.

Saturday’s concert at the First Congregational Church, to be repeated at 3 p.m. Sunday, played to far different, yet similarly powerful, effect, due largely to the three winning yet remarkably dissimilar works programmed by Arron.

In her debut, fresh off winning the prestigious Naumburg Award, Lark transfixed the audience with the Bach D Minor Chaconne for solo violin. Saturday, she paired with Arron for an almost exhaustingly dramatic performance of Zoltan Kodàly’s 1914 Duo for Violin and Cello.

Introducing the program, Arron said of the 25-year-old Kentucky native, “You’ve become acquainted with her Appalachian fiddling, which she does pretty darn well,” referring to her showy encore in 2013. “I picked this piece by Kodàly,” he said, “because on a human level, it comes from absolutely the same place.”

Kodàly, often with his friend Bela Bartók, roamed the mountains of Hungary to soak up the wild folk music. His duo, an episodic excursion through pentatonic and modal worlds, is a showpiece for cello and violin — and Arron and Lark put on quite a show, drawing explosive applause.

The sound world the pair created — tectonic rumbling trills in the cello, stabbing violin figures, strangely hued modal rhapsodies — was made more vivid by these two most expressive musicians. Standing above Arron, Lark fairly dove into phrases, and Arron at times hunched with his chin on the cello body while churning dark stops. The effect was great theater, and the audience loved it.

But in many ways, the concert was centered on Park, a pianist whose interpretive powers grow on this listener with every encounter. The two trios programmed, though very dissimilar, were both written by a pair of pianist composers — Mozart and Robert Schumann — and Park carried an inordinate weight wonderfully.

In the Mozart Piano Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502, the opening movement is built essentially of one theme, and Park gracefully created situational insights, through dynamics, elongated phrasing and knowing accents, to keep it ever fresh. At the end of the leisurely and conversational larghetto, the paired strings seem to suspend time with their final cadence, as if hypnotized, as we were, by Park’s playing.

The concert ended with Schumann’s Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 63, a deeply emotional masterpiece, warts and all. (Yes, the sonorities are often thick, and, yes, some transitions are clumsy.) And in this trio, Park seemed utterly energized.

The trio opened with Lark’s searching violin theme over a roiling and boiling piano accompaniment from Park that quickly captured the ensemble to carry it forward. This dark and uneasy musical quest moved through the typical Schumann quick offerings of new material (the trio made the abrupt cut to the ponticello section seem as modern as if written today) carried on the power of Park’s non-stop sense of harmonic direction.

By the first movement coda, Park twisted on her bench and craned her neck to keep eye contact with the string players riding her crest and swell. The ensemble made the movement’s ending, dropping back to the minor after its long quest, a gut wrenching one.

After a manic gallop of dotted rhythms through the scherzo, the musical search darkened yet again in a slow movement Arron describes as “an incredibly intimate place, very lonely, almost desolate.”

Lark’s face was a mask of pain as the despairing, free-form movement began, and she at times doubled with Arron to plumb some of its darkest moments. As it closed, the strings seemed to lose their will, unconsoled and unresolved. Seldom has the abrupt leap to the major key of the finale been more uplifting.

Park carried the triumphant finale with a joyous energy. Lark seemed strangely timid here, and there is always the risk that this grand piano part runs riot over the strings. But the effect was pure excitement.


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