by Anthony Kershaw
Facebook! FTW! I received an email alert that an ‘event’ had been added to my list on Facebook. It was the second concert in a new chamber series sponsored by the Stratford Chamber Music Society at St James’ Anglican Church in Stratford, Ontario. A gorgeous evening, a pleasant 90 minute cruise from Toronto and some lovely chamber music in a beautiful setting. Perfect. I was not disappointed.
Music Among Friends was an apt name for the concert. It was obvious the musicians had worked together for some time. There was a camaraderie and musical sharing that only comes with trust and good rehearsal. This approach benefited the music. Ensemble, whether between soloist and accompanist in the Handel and Haydn Trio Sonatas (adding either cello — the wonderful Susan Green — or piano, the equally wonderful Stephanie Mara), or in the primary solo works by Franck and Piston, was first rate. Phrasing was very musical; the music always had time to breathe and intonation was impeccable.
Of special interest to me were the flute sonatas by Walter Piston and César Franck. The former is a staple of the flute repertoire, an American gem in neoclassical style, and the latter (originally written for the violin) is a piece of which I am too well acquainted! Having performed it many times, it still scares the heck out of me. It demands much from the performer — musical artistry, fluid technique, limped and varied tone, and most of all, stamina! That Ms. Swinden placed this masterpiece at the end of a very demanding program showed not only musical taste, but guts.
Swinden gave us a stunning performance of the Franck. All of the composer’s demands were met, indeed, surpassed, allowing this listener to relax and let Franck’s amazing melodies float beautifully in the ample acoustic of the church. No less wonderful was Mara’s piano work. Franck also places huge demands on the pianist (typical of an organist?). The second movement, especially, is very ‘unpianistic’, needing great skill to unravel the complexity, being careful to not overpower the flute and to sound rhythmic while hammering out fist fulls of notes. Mara did all this with aplomb.
Swinden also played the Piston Sonata and Mike Mower’s jaunty and melodic Sonata Latino with the same musical phrasing, rhythmic precision and incision, beautiful tone and superb control. Sometimes, one can have too much of a good thing, especially in wind instrument recitals. Even after two hours, she left me wanting more. I look forward to hearing her again and I urge lovers of the flute and outstanding musicianship to seek out her concerts.
And a note for Swinden’s musical guests. Flutist Liesel Deppe (also possessed of a beautiful tone), the aforementioned Susan Green, and percussionist Carol Bauman. All added greatly to the enjoyment of the evening.
Music Among Friends
Laurel Swinden, flute
Stephanie Mara, piano
with guests Liesel Deppe, flute, Susan Green, cello and Carol Bauman, percussion
Music by Franck, Piston, Berlioz, Handel, Haydn, Doppler and Mike Mower.
Sunday July 12. 2009 @ 7:30 p.m.
The chamber series continues throughout the summer.