JUST AS THEY WERE ABOUT TO PLAY a piano quartet by Dvořák, violinist Barry Finclair noticed that cellist Andre Emilianoff's chair was squeaking – so he grabbed a replacement from against the wall.
“I don't mind hearing the bugs,” said Finclair. “But I don't want to have to hear the chair.”
Which is what a L'Ensemble performance is all about. A very rustic setting in the heart of the Cambridge countryside where Mom Nature adds to the magic of the music.
The opening concert of this season was performed Saturday night and featured a typical L'Ensemble program: slightly eclectic and brilliantly done. When your artistic director is a soprano you can bet you'll hear songs, but Ida Faiella goes on to find worthy but not-often-encountered material, such as Charles Martin Loeffler's “Quatre Poemes,” Op. 5, written in 1904 to texts by Baudelaire and Verlaine.
Scored for the exquisite combination of soprano, viola and piano, it featured pianist Charles Abramovic with Finclair on viola, entering most mournfully over the background of bugs to set the mood for a melancholy song about the sound of bells. Faiella's darkly-hued voice nicely augments the texture of such a piece, with its straightforward sadness, as well as “Autumn Evenings,” another slow song that paints an effective portrait of the season with a languorous viola melody over piano arpeggios.
The fast songs of the set, “La dansons la gigue” and “Serenade,” have a cruel irony about them that also are served well by Faiella's voice, particularly in the last-named, hardly the sentimental serenade of a Schubert.
A change of language and a change of key with the violin sonata that followed: Finclair and Abramovic performed the Sonata No. 3 in a minor, Op. 25, by Georges “Roumanian Rhapsody” Enescu, whose nationalism is revealed in the first few measures.
There are nasty technical demands – harmonics, octaves, left-hand pizzicato and a very high tessitura – that make such a piece as much of a challenge to listen to as to play: a kind of “will he make it through this?” spirit pervades.
And Finclair did so, admirably, with equally fine support from Abramovic. The gypsy tradition that so informed Enescu's work also freed the violin from a too-classical idiom and expanded its expressive language, which is why a piece like this one, with all of its strange harmonies and oddly-placed notes, sounds so “right” when played so well.
As the sky darkened through the big barn window, the performers gave us a slow movement that was downright creepy (the most appropriate “misterioso” movement marking I've ever seen), and I feared for a while that Finclair was summoning all of the ghosts who inhabit the barn.
The final work, Dvořák's Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 87, was a lesson in how such a piece should be played. Again, there was the feeling in the room, the special excitement, of a piece that's going absolutely fantastically, the team on a winning roll.
With violist Richard Sortomme and cellist Emilianoff completing the foursome, this gorgeous, rambunctious piece had the fire and beauty that only occurs when the players don't mind taking a few risks with the piece. It's marked fortissimo? Then play it with a snarl!
We're inundated with the cute lushness of Muzak chamber-music playing, in which a group of dodderers saws ever so sweetly. What a relief to hear a group like L'Ensemble remind us that music is a living thing.
The next program in the series features music by Prokofiev, Dohnanyi, Krommer and resident composer George Calusdian, and will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15 and at 1 p.m. the following Sunday.
– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 10 August 1987