Optimism rules at Ars Choralis. The chorus’s program last week, which I heard at Overlook Methodist Church on March 30, was entitled “The Poets Speak: Mending a Broken World.” The musical selections were interspersed with inspirational poetry, well read by Gilles Malkine, and included numerous brief works with positive themes. As often happens with these theme programs, I found the musical quality widely varied. Pablo Casals’ Renaissance-style motet was very beautiful, as were works by Thomas Tallis and Nurit Hirsch. The latter was one of three songs performed by the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice Youth Choir, an impressive group of kids led by Harvey Boyer.
The more contemporary pieces were mostly in various pop styles, including songs from U2, Toto, and Pink Floyd albums. I was generally less fond of these, not out of distaste for pop music in general. But I definitely fail to appreciate the Broadway musical style of composers like Jake Runestad (represented by the only multi-movement piece on the program) and James Whitbourn, even if their texts are full of inspiring expressions. The arrangement of “Sail Away” was sung with a typical AC failing, stiff and square rhythms. However, the gospel arrangement “Cornerstone” was a pleasant surprise, sung in real gospel style, with real gospel piano from JoAnne Schubert and a real gospel solo from Rachel Holt. As usual, the singing of the chorus, under the direction of Barbara Pickhardt, was consistently excellent. The capacity audience was obviously pleased with the whole enterprise. I got excited only by the encore, the title of which I missed. It was enlivened by Boyer’s exciting solo singing (unamplified!). I’ll probably have more fun at Ars Choralis’s next program, “Bach and His World,” coming in June at the Maverick Concert Hall.
Speaking of which, you can find this summer’s Maverick schedule at https://maverickconcerts.org/upcoming‑events‑2019/.
Bard College has what I expect to be a thrilling event coming up on April 27/28 at Sosnoff Theater. Leon Botstein conducted a performance of Lili Boulanger’s setting of Psalm 130 at the “Fauré and His World “ edition of the Bard Music Festival, the first time I’d ever heard this little-known masterpiece by a tragically short-lived composer in concert. It’s coming back as part of a concert by The Orchestra Now, which also includes settings of the psalm by Virgil Thomson and Joachim Raff, along with a new Violin Concerto by Lera Auerbach based on the psalm and played by the great violinist Vadim Repin. TON under Botstein also performs the Verdi Requiem with various Bard choruses on April 6/7. Among other Bard events in April is the third in Benjamin Hochman’s series of the complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart, Saturday, April 27, at Bitó. No admission price or tickets, just show up.
On April 28, pianist Yalin Chi makes a welcome return to Saugerties Pro Musica in a program of piano duets with Steven Beck, including works of Mozart, Debussy, Hindemith, and Bizet. The Mozart is a little-known masterpiece. SPM concerts take place at Saugerties United Methodist Church, Washington Ave. at Post St.; info at www.saugertiespromusica.org.
SUNY New Paltz has been offering some quite interesting concerts recently. On Tuesday, Feb. 26, the double-reed master Joël Evans played a variety of oboes and oboe-type instruments with faculty colleagues in a delightful recital. I loved his embellished repeats (a baroque necessity) in Handel, and his mastery of Mozart’s tricky oboe writing in the Quartet in F for oboe and strings. Hindemith’s Oboe Sonata, not something you hear every day, benefitted greatly from the assertive collaboration of pianist Ruthanne Schempf. I was less pleased with Takeshi Nagayasu’s all-Chopin recital on March 12. Nagayasu, who won last year’s first prize in the New Paltz PianoSummer Flier Competition, makes a lovely sound and has all the keyboard facility you might want. But his dynamic range is narrow, his affect dispassionate, and his overall results were pretty at best. I hope Juilliard gives him a more involving musical personality. Most of April’s concerts are jazz, not a bad thing, but there’s a fascinating item for May 5, the Collegium Musicum, led by Evans, which plays renaissance and baroque music on authentic instruments. Check www.newpaltz.edu/music for the schedule. When there’s an admission charge for these concerts, it’s very low, $8/6.
The Woodstock Symphony Orchestra gave its March 9 concert at Olin Hall, Bard College. Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture got off to a slightly ragged start and it was a bit heavy, but the final brass sounded just great. WSO oboist Allison Rubin handled the virtuoso passagework brilliantly and produced a lovely sound in an Oboe Concerto in C which might be by Haydn. (The evidence for his authorship is pretty shaky, and if the music is his, it’s not his best.) Rubin and the orchestra did bring it to life. The great challenge on the program was Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, a big orchestra work. The performance was accurate and colorful, and the orchestra under Music Director Jonathan Handman definitely sounded big enough. The WSO’s season concludes on April 27 at Quimby Theater, SUNY Ulster, with a repeat the following day at Arlington High School in Lagrangeville. The program is “Late Romantic Masterworks,” with Dvorák’s Eighth Symphony and Janet Sung as soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. The orchestra’s new website is www.woodstocksymphony.org.
The Hudson Valley Philharmonic gave us a Mozart & Beethoven program at the Bardavon on March 23. Music Director Randall Craig Fleischer showed his gratifying abilities as a Mozart conductor early in his tenure with the HVP. Musicians will tell you that although Mozart rarely strains their techniques, the clarity and precision his music requires are always challenging. HVP principal horn Nicholas Caluori was a smooth and lovely soloist in the Horn Concerto No. 4. It was followed by the Symphony No. 25, the “Little” G Minor, played with all the clarity, balance, and articulation I’d want to hear. In Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, the soloist was a winner of the HVP’s Concerto Competition, Ania Filochowska, who already has something of a solo career. It’s easy to understand why. Her playing is poised and expressive, she has a virtuoso technique, and she makes a lovely sound. Still, I wasn’t completely satisfied with her interpretation. Making minor adjustments in the music’s tempo is a legitimate expressive device, but they should be subtle enough so that they don’t draw attention to themselves. After a while, I did notice what Filochowska was doing with the music, and I found it a little distracting. If she had played the Tchaikovsky, which she said before the concert was her other favorite concerto, the same style would have worked better. Still, she’s quite a fiddler. Fleischer and the HVP worked very well with her, and the audience’s reaction was so enthusiastic that they got a Paganini encore. The HVP returns to the Bardavon on April 13, joined by the chorus Capella Festiva and soloists, with a rare and precious treat, the Bach Mass in B Minor. Information at www.bardavon.org.