by Lindsay Koob
Saturday’s busy classical concert schedule had me bouncing all over town to catch three different events, the last of which (Westminster Choir) got its own glowing review. But there’s only time to blog briefly about the other two: another winning chamber event at Dock Street, plus a sonorous go at Johannes Brahms’ beloved German Requiem.
The Chamber VI program was yet another winner, featuring two more (sigh!) sweet and emotionally potent performances from superstar soprano Dawn Upshaw. She began the program with regular series pianist Stephen Prustman’s stylistically true arrangements of four lovely songs by 16th century Englishman John Dowland. Then, at program’s end, she sang "Lua Descolorida," a short, mournful piece by one of today’s hottest composers, Osvaldo Golijov. She described it as “The saddest song ever written in the key of C Major,” and, indeed, her wrenching rendition of it (also the Dowland pieces) made me want to cry. Trust me, this lady can do that to you in a heartbeat. The trusty St. Lawrence String Quartet backed her up nicely in both works.
In between came two entirely different chamber gems. The first was composer-in-residence Jonathan Berger’s Bridal Canopy for string quartet, a grief-stricken and often searing “requiem” of sorts for the Jewish people lost during the century just past. “It’s the closest a string quartet will ever come to sounding like a buzz-saw,” Berger told us, and, for sure, the music’s occasional moments of shrieking violence conveyed that sonic impression, and more. No, you couldn’t whistle the tunes, but the work’s stark emotional intensity — and the SLSQ's blazing interpretation — still bowled most of the crowd over, judging from their uncontrived applause. The other work couldn’t have been more different: Mozart’s sweet and frothy two-movement Flute Quartet in G, superbly played by flute sorceress Tara Helen O’Connor and a complement of the series' regular strings players. This piece also marked the return to Spoleto of Barry Schiffman, who used to play second violin with the SLSQ; here he was on viola.