BURLINGTON — Friday’s UVM Lane Series concert, titled “Mary Bonhag & Friends: Out of Darkness/Into the Light,” proved a rich and rewarding showcase of some of northern Vermont’s finest musicians.
The truly arresting program, which was live-streamed from the UVM Recital Hall, featured Marshfield soprano, Craftsbury violinist Mary Rowell, Burlington cellist Emily Taubl and Shelburne pianist Paul Orgel. And the concert benefited from excellent production quality by the UVM Lane Series, among the best seen in Vermont.
Certainly the piece de resistance was Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok,” Op. 127, a powerful and touching work that employed the evening’s entire cast of musicians. It was premiered in 1967 by soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (cellist Mstislav Rostropovich’s wife), violinist David Oistrakh, Rostropovich and pianist Mieczyslaw Weinberg (filling in for the ailing Shostakovich).
Shostakovich’s music, underscoring Blok’s pessimistic symbolist verses, is terse and often returns to the theme of suffering and death. Bonhag’s brilliant coloratura soprano has by its nature limited coloring possibilities, yet she successfully delivered the character of each song, from bright to dramatic to angry to haunting. And with her articulation of the text, it felt very Russian.
In each song Bonhag was complemented by different instruments. In the first, “Song of Ophelia,” the ominous atmosphere created by Taubl’s cello and Orgel’s piano joined Bonhag in a sense of foreboding. In “Gamayun, the Bird of Prophecy,” a brilliantly angry Bonhag warned of coming misery supported by Orgel.
Third, Bonhag was joined by Rowell’s equally expressive violin in the tender duet “We Were Together,” albeit with its uncomfortable undercurrent. In “The City Sleeps,” number four, Bonhag’s voice brightened in an awakening against the brooding atmosphere provided by Taubl and Orgel.
“The Storm,” number five featured a declamatory Bonhag, complemented by the excitement provided by Rowell and Orgel. Rowell and Taubl alternated accompanying Bonhag’s storytelling in number six, “Secret Signs.” Finally, they all come together to celebrate in “Music,”
Friday’s performance of “Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok” was riveting and fascinating, thanks much to the sensitive performances. It was clear that these folks were comfortable playing together. (I guess that’s why they’re called “friends.”)
Rowell and Taubl joined in Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu’s 1958 Bohemian-flavored Duo No. 2. Both delivered the brilliant colors, passion and virtuosity with flair, and their performance of the Adagio revealed real tenderness in the work.
Orgel opened the program with the Prelude and Fugue in B Major, BWV 892 from J. S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II.” The Prelude was joyously lyrical, while the Fugue was lyrical yet well articulated, and voiced with nuance and reverence.
Closing the program was sheer beauty. Taubl and Orgel delivered Arvo Pärt’s now classic “Spiegel im Spiegel” with a tightly controlled expressiveness that made the performance exquisite.
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