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Mary Lou Saetta’s Golden Jubilee Bash

This concert, on Saturday night, is a rarity on two counts. First, it’s a recital of solo violin music, a rare treat for true connoisseurs. Second, it celebrates 50 years of professional music making for Mary Lou Saetta, cofounder (with flutist Irvin Gilman) of Capitol Chamber Artists, an ensemble known for its inventive programming and skilled, accessible concerts.

A solo violin recital makes some extra demands on the listener. Piano is one thing: Pianos can texture the music more robustly, laying out chords as complex as any orchestra can sound. The violin can sound two strings at once; all four in a broken chord or a nervous arpeggio. It only hints at those chords, relying on you, the perceptive listener, to use your own wit and awareness to mentally fill out the sound.

And never was this more expertly realized than in the solo string sonatas by Bach. He wrote six for cello, six for violin, each one a set of contrasting dance movements that nevertheless hang together in a way that gives each work a sense of completeness.

Saetta will play his Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, a four-movement work with, of all things, a four-voice fugue as its second movement, something achieved on the fiddle through a great deal of suggestion—yet you’re never unaware of each of the voices that twines through the piece. Similarly, the slow third movement features a lovely, plaintive theme that seems to be answered by a chorus.

Bach’s cello sonatas also sit well on the viola—which gives under-the-chin string players a shot at them.

“When I studied violin with Joseph Knitzer,” says Saetta, “he was the last of the (Leopold) Auer students, a very fierce man with strong opinions. Among them was the belief that when violin players play viola, they ruin their technique. So I stayed away from the viola for a long time. Once I started playing that instrument, however, and studying with Frances Tursi, I found that it actually strengthened my technique.”

Unlike the violin, which has a fairly strict length, violas can range from a fairly large instrument to something pretty much violin-sized; Saetta plays one of the smaller ones. She’ll be playing Bach’s Cello Suite in C on the viola, giving us a six-movement work with a characteristically arpeggiated opening movement and, at its center, a beautiful, plaintive sarabande.

Saetta had the pleasure of playing the U.S. premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Cadenza, a work written by the Finnish composer as a test piece for an international violin competition. “It’s about five minutes long, but it calls for lots of left-hand pizzicato, octaves, and other virtuoso techniques. Back when I was playing with the Albany Symphony, Sallinen came to Albany to hear his music played by the group, and I was asked to play this piece for a program we gave at the Colonie Country Club.”

Other works on the program include Aram Khachaturian’s Sonata Monologue, a three-movement work that Saetta describes as being very Armenian in style, befitting the composer’s heritage, and music by three renowned violinist-composers.

Eugene Ysa˙e was famous in the early 20th century not only as a virtuoso but also as a conductor (he spent four years with the Cincinnati Symphony). His Sonata No. 2 in A Minor, known as the “Obsession” sonata, is a relentlessly difficult piece that salutes Bach’s Partita No. 3 in the first movement before incorporating the darker strains of the Dies Irae. Fritz Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo brilliantly explores the sonorities of the solo instrument, in a work so tuneful you almost forget how difficult it is to play. Likewise with Nicolo Paganini’s Caprice No. 24, last of a monumental series that explores the instrument’s every technical difficulty.

Look for a user-friendly face to this recital as well: “I’ll be giving some explanatory remarks before the pieces,” says Saetta, “which I think helps to break down some of the barriers people associate with classical music. This is my anniversary, so it should be fun.”

Mary Lou Saetta’s Golden Jubilee Bash takes place at 8 PM Saturday (Sept. 24) at the First Congregational Church, 405 Quail St., Albany. Admission is $5. For more information, call Capitol Chamber Artists at 458-9231.

—B.A. Nilsson

Regarding the Rural

Some might point out that we here at Metroland have been “regarding the rural” quite a bit lately, what with out recent in-depth coverage of gleaning and the Farmers v. Yuppie Pond Scum controversy. Well, the folks at MASS MoCA have organized an exhibition of photographers who have been “working to breathe new life” into the “distinctly American genre” of rural photography.

Regarding the Rural showcases the recent work of William Christenberry, Matthew Moore, Julie Moos, Paul Shambroom and Alec Soth. While it is in the tradition of the great 20th-century photographers Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, as the museum guide points out, the “political and social context has changed.”

Pictured is Soth’s New Orleans. It’s a haunting image in itself, but even more now, as one can’t help but wonder if this house is still standing.

Regarding the Rural opens Saturday (Sept. 24) and continues through Dec. 31 at MASS MoCA (1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.). For more information, call (413) 662-2111.

Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra

Not so long ago, it wasn’t at all certain that Alejandro Escovedo would ever be touring again. No Depression’s artist of the decade (the ’90s) became seriously ill with hepatitis C in 2003, and, well, things didn’t look so good. Musicians around the country rallied to his cause: They organized benefit concerts to raise money for the insuranceless Escovedo, including a fine local show with an array of aficionados including Michael Eck.

Happily, Escovedo has sufficiently recovered to start touring again, and will bring his rootsy, soulful sound to Troy’s Revolution Hall on Wednesday. You can count on him thanking everyone for helping out in his time of need, too. As he told the Charlotte Observer last week: “It was pretty amazing, inspiring and humbling.”

The Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra will perform Wednesday (Sept. 28) at 8 PM at Revolution Hall (425 River St., Troy). Tickets are $22. For more info, call 273-2337.


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