of Ma’alwyck, with Gene Marie Callahan Kern, soprano, and
Lanfranco Marcelletti, conductor
Gallery, Sage College of Albany, March 2
The Opalka Gallery is a great place to experience art; if
you don’t believe me, check out Nadine Wasserman’s review
of Positions: Gregory Coates in last week’s paper [“Abstract
Wit,” Feb. 28]. Last weekend, Opalka also proved to be a terrific
venue for a chamber concert as the local ensemble Musicians
of Ma’alwyck presented Moonstruck, a program of works by Hilary
Tann, Arnold Schoenberg and Richard Strauss.
The show opened with Tann’s Nothing Forgotten, a piece
for violin, cello and piano. Consisting of three movements
without a break, and incorporating themes from a pair of 19th-century
Adirondack songs, this was stark and lovely music.
The centerpiece of the performance—and the most “moonstruck”
of the three works—was Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal (but not
12-tone), 1912 song cycle Pierrot Lunaire. Once upon
a time, whispering the very name “Schoenberg” was an evil
spell that kept audiences away (God knows that most NPR/PRI
classical-radio programmers still treat it that way), but
the packed Opalka Gallery on Sunday afternoon suggests that
this may no longer be the case.
Lunaire takes for its text 21 poems by Albert Giraud (translated
into German by Otto Erich Hartleben). They align perfectly
with Schoenberg’s often endearingly hysterical musical personality.
The lines in the “Red Mass” section, “the dripping red Host/His
heart—in bloody fingers—for a hideous Communion” immediately
brought to mind the batshit-lurid golden-calf-worshipping
scenes in Schoenberg’s opera Moses und Aron. Each poem
in Pierrot Lunaire is like this; each is, to varying
degrees, lurid, fantastic, shocking, cruel or disturbingly
(My favorite: “Verses are holy crosses/On which poets silently
bleed to death.” I wish.)
This is intricate, demanding, highly theatrical music, which
was nimbly performed by Musicians of Ma’alwyck under the direction
of Lanfranco Marcelletti. It was almost as much fun to watch
the interplay of conductor and musicians as it was to experience
the sound they made. Almost.
Soprano Gene Marie Callahan Kern carried the weight of making
this prickly, flamboyant song cycle work. The words are sort-of
spoken and sort-of sung, but are still deeply embedded in
the tricky score. Callahan Kern alternately cooed and shouted,
soothed and frightened with complete mastery.
It was a sparkling performance of something that, by common
measure, shouldn’t “sparkle.” But I couldn’t stop smiling
during the entire piece, and the applause at the end was loud
and sustained. It also helped that, in the program notes,
the text was reproduced in both German and English so we could
all follow along.
After an intermission, Marcelletti, Callahan Kern and the
Musicians of Ma’alwyck—augmented by a few more players—returned
to perform a new chamber ensemble arrangement by William Carragan
of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. I’m not a big
fan of Strauss, but these last songs are undeniably beautiful.
The rich, deeply moving work was a total crowd-pleaser, so
Carragan can be assured that this arrangement will have a
life beyond these first performances.