Oksana Maslova of Germantown and Sterling Baca appear in the Pennsylvania Ballet’s performance of “Ghost Stories” (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev)

By Michael Caruso

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, hosted the fourth in its series of “Five Fridays” fundraising chamber music recitals March 31. The performing ensemble was the Astral Trio, comprised of violinist Eunice Kim, cellist Christine Lamprea and pianist Sejoon Park. I was especially eager to hear Park’s contribution; he’s both an alumnus and current doctoral student at my alma mater, the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.

The Astral Trio, brought together by Astral Artists, the local organization that helps aspiring young musicians find their way into professional careers, played a pair of masterpieces Friday evening. Contrary to the order in the printed program, they opened their recital with Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor; after intermission, they played Schubert’s Piano Trio in B-flat major. In both works, they displayed an admirable level of technical ensemble and interpretive maturity.

Lamprea caught the dark cello rumblings that open the Mendelssohn’s first movement. Kim then joined in gently with Park following suit with a surprisingly clear tone from the church’s vintage Steinway grand piano. The instrument has often been the object of criticism for lacking tonal brilliance, yet Park elicited clarity of timbre and balance of voicing throughout the entire program. Lamprea’s expansive expressivity balanced beautifully against Kim’s more restrained lyricism while Park offered a solid yet superbly modulated harmonic foundation for his colleagues while offering up more than the occasional flourish of sparkling scale passages.

Park continued to impress with what struck me as an old-fashioned piano tone for the opening measures of the second movement – stylistically on the mark for the music at hand. Although Kim lacked a touch of control in her softer passages at the start of the movement, she came into her own as the dynamic level of her playing increased. Lamprea’s playing sang out like a master baritone from the very start.

All three players delineated the flighty puckish mood of the third movement, then brought the entire score to a resounding close with hurtling dramatic drive in the Finale: Allegro assai appassionato.

Kim, Lamprea and Park caught the giddy high spirits of the first movement of the Schubert in playing that was characterized by both an appreciation of its supremely classical structure and its melting lyricism. Ensemble and balance were immaculately maintained throughout, with emotional eruptions set against moments of gentle intimacy.

Kim’s difficulty with focusing her soft playing that slightly marred her work in the Mendelssohn was completely absent here in the Schubert’s second movement. She joined with Lamprea to form an almost operatic duet sensitively accompanied by Park. All three players projected the happiness of the third movement and the carefree exuberance of the fourth.

The final recital in this season’s “Five Fridays” features soprano Molly Quinn May 5 at 7:30 p.m. Visit www.stpaulschestnuthill.org/five-fridays.

PENNA. BALLET

The Pennsylvania Ballet performed a program entitled “Romance” at the Merriam Theater this past weekend. One world premiere, one company premiere and one neo-classic revival graced the stage, and Germantown principal dancer Oksana Maslova took part in both the first and second works on the roster.

The world premiere was “Ghost Stories” with choreography by Nicolo Fonte to music by Ezio Bosso & Max Richter. The company premiere was “Remansos” with choreography by Nacho Duato to music by Enrique Granados. Rounding out the program was George Balanchine’s “Western Symphony” to Hershey Kay’s orchestrations of traditional American tunes.

Danced to a pre-recorded score, “Ghost Stories” is a multi-section work of smoothly flowing gestures and movements that offer images of sensual and emotional intimacy and visual textural clarity. Fonte’s choreography seems to come from an inherent understanding of the music. The result is dancing that utilizes what your ears hear to allow your eyes to see more fully the images before them.

Oksana Maslova was paired Friday evening with principal dancer Sterling Baca, with whom she had danced so successfully in the company’s previous outing, “Le Corsaire.” The pair caught the legato line of both the music and the choreography to present a series of seamlessly linked images. Maslova and Baca made a flawless pair.

I was particularly curious to see “Remansos” because of its having been set to piano pieces of Enrique Granados. My piano teacher at the Peabody Conservatory of Music of the Johns Hopkins University, Julio Esteban, had heard Granados play his own music when he (Esteban) was a young conservatory student in Spain. I studied these very same pieces with Mr. Esteban at Peabody and have continued to teach them at Settlement Music School. I could hardly wait to see how a world-class choreographer had set them for ballet.

I wasn’t disappointed. Nacho Duato efficaciously caught both the romantic lyricism and the angular rhythms and harmonies of the music. Once again Maslova danced exquisitely, with both intensity and grace held in perfect balance.

Longtime company pianist, Martha Koeneman, gave the score a superb rendition. Her playing brought me back to all those delightful days of study at Peabody.

When I first started reviewing the Pennsylvania Ballet 40 years ago, Balanchine’s canon formed the core of its repertoire. In those days, his choreography seemed so startlingly “modern” in its neo-classical departure from the romanticism of the 19th century, in which he had come to maturity but from which he had apparently freed himself. Seeing a masterpiece such as “Western Symphony” following performances of two contemporary pieces cast Balanchine’s style in a vastly different light. Instead of seeing it for its departures from romanticism, one saw the connections. Even the absence of a story line, such as in “Swan Lake,” didn’t disconnect it with the past in which Balanchine was born. The gestures and movements this time around were appreciated as having maintained the traditions that gave them birth rather than as having broken away from them.

One thing remains unchanged, however: the brilliant inspiration of Balanchine’s visualization of the energetic arrangements of American tunes Hershey Kay  provided him with. And even if the ballet doesn’t have a true libretto, Balanchine’s choreography provides the viewer with a charming revelation of individual relationships in the Old West.

Particular standouts Friday evening were Lillian Di Piazza & Ian Hussey and Sara Michelle Murawski & Sterling Baca.

Pennsylvania Ballet closes out its 2016-17 season with “Re/Action” in the Academy of Music May 11-14. Visit www.paballet.org.

 

PIFFARO

Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, plus four guest instrumentalists presented “Sacred Winds: Cathedral Music for a Spanish Band” Saturday evening, April 1, in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. In a program that featured mostly music that had either been specifically composed for liturgies in the many cathedrals and royal/aristocratic chapels or had been arranged from actual sacred choral music in 16th century Imperial Spain, Piffaro offered performances that enhanced its already high reputation for playing that is both technically polished and interpretively compelling. Timbres were tart, rhythms were precise and energetic, balance was superb, and the occasionally somber mood of some of the texts was always projected with warmth and lyricism.

RUSSIAN MOZART

The young Russian virtuoso, Daniil Trifonov, joined Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra for a quartet of concerts April 6-9 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. In a program that also included selections from Beethoven’s “The Creatures of Prometheus” and Liszt’s symphonic poem, “Prometheus,” Trifonov gave a majestic, romantic rendition to Mozart’s early Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major. He graced the audience with a solo piano arrangement of the Gavotte from Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” as an encore.

Contact NOTEWORTHY at Michael-caruso@comcast.net.

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