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Friday, August 06, 2021

Listen to the Women

From the Classical Vault Dept.: There’s been a struggle for recognition that women in the arts have been waging for far longer than current events might suggest, and the Albany-area chamber ensemble L’Ensemble was fighting the good fight at least 35 years ago, when my review that follows was written. (And here’s another Beach-centric review.)


IS IT STILL NECESSARY to highlight the work of female composers with all-women’s-work concert programming? L’Ensemble artistic director Ida Faiella still finds it difficult to secure the sheet music of some of the stuff she likes to sing and play - so, yes it is.

Amy Beach
Enlightenment usually requires something of a revolution, but the exploration of music by women requires that no shots be fired - this one can be fought with bows.

“Women’s Work” was the title of a program that opened L’Ensemble’s eighth summer season at a converted barn in Washington County. The concert yesterday afternoon had fine weather (a novelty worth reporting this week) as the artists presented the music of four significant composers.

Amy Beach, condescendingly known for years as Mrs. H. H. A., already has a reputation among the cognoscenti, and a recent recording of her Violin Sonata in A Minor has brought some deserved attention to that piece. There is no reason why this sonata should not appear on any recital as a substitute for the overplayed ones of Brahms and Franck: it is easily the match of the better-known works.

The performers, violinist Barry Finclair and pianist Sean Gallagher, achieved the partnership this piece requires. Not only is the music skillfully crafted, it also boasts a keen sense of the sound of the individual instruments.

Finclair plays with the drama of a piece in mind; dissatisfied with the beginning of the Largo movement, he had the nerve to start it again: this time postponing the climax until its logical moment.

Beach was trained in Europe because of this country’s sexist educational system (she lived from 1867-1944), and brought back a German Romantic sound. But I hear a unique voice in her work, a voice that needs the variety of expression more performances will provide.

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel suffered the notoriety of being Felix’s sister, and her famous-composer brother had no sympathy for her competitive choice of career (he even went so far as to publish some of her work under his name). Hensel’s Piano Trio in D Minor bears a resemblance to Felix’s work (the opening is reminiscent of the Violin Concerto in E Minor) – or perhaps it is the other way around.

In any event, violinist Richard Sortomme and cellist Beverly Lauridsen joined Gallagher in a rousing performance of this sturdy piece, bursting with restless thematic material that Hensel developed with impressive technique.

The other two works on the program were by living composers. Miriam Gideon, who was born in 1906 and now lives in New York City, used Tanka poetry of ancient Japan as the basis of her 10-movement song cycle, “The Seasons of Time.”

The delicacy of these miniatures was complemented by the spare scoring and instrumentation: Gallagher alternated between piano and celesta, joined by Lauridsen and flutist Alex Ogle; soprano Faiella was partnered with varying combinations of instruments to bring out the texture of each tiny poem.

The settings echoed the music that a recitation would contain; it is more difficult to keep a setting that lean, a tribute to Gideon’s talent.

Victoria Bond, known to the area audience as former conductor of the Empire State Youth Orchestra, was on hand to introduce and conduct her setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “To a Young Child.” Titled “Margaret,” Bond’s version is scored for soprano, violin, flute, cello, and piano.

L’Ensemble presents its next concert, a performance of Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and again at 1 p.m. Sunday at its Chamber Music Center on Content Farm Road.

– Schenectady Gazette, 11 August 1986

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