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Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Gypsy for Me

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Among of the highlights of my busy reviewing schedule thirty years ago were the trips into New York’s Washington County to a converted dairy barn where the chamber group L’Ensemble performed. This also dates back to when I typed my review into a terminal in the office of the Schenectady Gazette, and thus have no computer file in my archives. I assembled booklets of clips from that era, and have enjoyed going through my thirty-years-ago cultural history.


THE FIRST SURPRISE FLUSHES OF FALL provided an atmospheric setting Saturday night for L’Ensemble’s “A Gypsy Summer” at the group’s not-too-modified barn-cum-concert hall in Cambridge, NY.

The spirit of the Hungarian fiddler was effectively captured in performances of mainstream classical chamber music with characteristic gypsy elements.

The idea for this program came to artistic director Ida Faiella last New Year’s Eve at a café in Budapest, she explained in her introduction; as a performer in the first half of the Cambridge concert, she sang Brahms’s “Ziegeunerlieder” with a vivacious understanding of the evocative poems.

Brahms spent some time performing with a violinist who shared with him the characteristic sounds and stylings of the gypsy’s music, so that the composer could inform even original melodies with an appropriately exotic flavor.

In the case of these songs, each is a tribute to an aspect of the turbulent heart of a lover. The second, for instance, likens a broken heart to a torrential river, and soprano Faiella had a whitewater accompaniment skillfully played by pianist Robert McDonald.

She turned immediately coy for the next song, a mischievous study of kissing, but contrasted that a few songs later with the pompousness of the lover riding into town with all the effrontery of a Dennis King character, looking to snare a bride.

Gypsy melody need not always be a matter of prestissimo fiddling, as cellist Beverly Lauridsen demonstrated in a melody (“Songs My Mother Taught Me”) by Dvořák, a plaintive, peaceful duet with pianist McDonald.

A more classical perspective was provided in the trio by Haydn that opened the concert, in which Lauridsen and McDonald were joined by violinist Richard Sortomme. This is an “aw-w-w” piece: the third movement’s “Gypsy Melody” is so well known that it provoked aw-w-ws from the audience.

A warhorse by Brahms concluded the concert: The piano quartet in G minor is a piece that has appeared so frequently on recent programs that I have been praying for it to retire for a while. But the performers -- the aforementioned trio with Sortomme switched to viola and Barry F'inclair added on violin – stayed in a high-kickin’ mood and gave the piece the energy it needs.

Chamber music suffers too much from a white-glove treatment, as if the players are afraid to shake off the dust. A piece like this one cooks if you give it a chance, and this quartet not only made the most of the dynamics, giving us stirring fortissimos and svelte pianissimos, but also had a lot of fun And that’s good for the shared heartbeat a chamber ensemble thrives upon. Special praise goes to pianist McDonald, who brought a soloist’s sense of drama into a well-honed collaboration.

The final concert of this L’Ensemble season takes place at 7 30 PM Saturday and 1 PM Sunday and features “Façade,” an entertainment with music by William Walton and poems by Edith Sitwell.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 25 August 1986

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