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Token Creek: German & French Baroque, Songs With & Without Words

Program II
Buxtehude: Sonata a due in A Major, Op. 1, No. 3
Biber: Sonata III in F Major
J. S. Bach: Sonata in G Minor for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, BWV 1029
François Couperin: Pièces de clavecin, 24th Ordre
Marais: Pièces de viole
Leclair: Sonata in F Major, Op. 5, No. 2
Rameau: Concert No. 5

Boston Museum Trio
Daniel Stepner, baroque violin
Laura Jeppesen, viola da gamba
John Gibbons, harpsichord

Program III
J. S. Bach: Three Chorale Arias
   Lobe den Herrn
   Wo soll ich fliehen hin
   Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ
John Harbison: Four Songs of Solitude
Debussy: Trois Chansons de Bilitis
John Harbison: North & South (1999)
(world premiere)
Haydn: Trio in F# Minor, Hob. XV:26

Janice Felty, mezzo-soprano
Rose Mary Harbison, violin
Karl Levine, cello
John Harbison, harpsichord
Craig Smith, piano


Marking the end of summer's classical-music season, the second and third concerts of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, hosted by John and Rose Mary Harbison in their country home, were packed. Two more strongly contrasting programs would be hard to conjure.

Wednesday evening presented one of the country's best period-instrument ensembles, the Boston Museum Trio. The repertory divided neatly into German and French halves, each providing a good sample of the best each country had to offer in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Though harpsichordist John Gibbons and gambist Laura Jeppesen each got a chance to show off their sizable individual talents, Gibbons in music by François Couperin and Jeppesen in pieces by Marin Marais, it was Baroque violinist Daniel Stepner's impressive virtuosity in trios by Buxtehude, Biber, Bach, Leclair and Rameau that elevated this concert to the top of the pleasure and quality scales.

The Sunday afternoon concert, entitled "Songs With Words and Songs Without," featured mezzo-soprano Janice Felty, violinist Rose Mary Harbison, cellist Karl Lavine and pianists John Harbison and Craig Smith, in works by Bach, Debussy and Haydn, as well as two pieces by John Harbison.

Rose Mary Harbison played the Midwest premiere of John Harbison's Four Songs of Solitude for unaccompanied violin. As the composer explained, the central idea is expressing the singular aloneness of a solo performer, each of the four pieces in a somewhat contrasting lyrical style. I thought these were first-rate works, replete with long, arching lines, rhapsodic passion, rhythmic variety and enough technical challenges to satisfy any virtuoso.

I need more hearings before forming a firm opinion about Harbison's North and South (1999), two sets of three songs each, for mezzo-soprano and piano, on poems by Elizabeth Bishop. In this world premiere performance Felty, to whom the second set is dedicated, nicely expressed the wide range of feelings in the poems, especially in the fifth song, a wistfully nostalgic backward glance upon a just-ended seaside summer. Smith seemed to be struggling at times with the admittedly tricky piano parts.

The performance that concluded the whole festival, alas, fell well below the usual standard for these concerts. In Haydn's delightfully puckish Piano Trio in F# Minor, Hob. XV:26 Smith unfortunately had neither the notes nor the musical content under his fingers, which may also have contributed to tentative, lackluster playing by Harbison and Lavine, both of whom sounded more secure in the Bach at the front of the program.

Isthmus, August, 2000
Copyright 2000 Jess Anderson

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