The value of Charles Haupt’s “A Musical Feast” was magnificently demonstrated at the close of last night’s program. Haupt, cellist Feng Hew and pianist Claudia Hoca took to the Crazy Mary-set stage (A.R. Gurney’s latest confection runs at the Kavinoky Theatre until December 9) complemented or erased all that had proceeded and rewarded the patrons with an engaging, thoughtful reading of Mendelssohn’s D Minor Piano Trio. The partners truly saw the music as a whole: Haupt and Feng used their bows as if joined at the tip to produce homogeneity of timbre and tone in the “Molto Adagio ed agitato” and “Andante con moto tranquillo” that will remain happily in memory for years. For her part, Hoca led with authority where required and supported her colleagues with surety, contributing much to the seldom-realized effect of three musicians rather than piano with string accompaniment. Still when the “Scherzo’s” fuse was lit she dashed through the cascades of notes with zest and enough humour to let us all ignore the a-musical contribution from the challenged piano’s wayward mechanism.
Earlier, that instrument had been put through its paces as Paolo Cavallone served up David Felder’s Stravinsky-hued Rocket Summer. There were many moments of exquisite colours, evoking distant memories of Gershwin and Satie, yet both Cavallone and the music seemed to be perpetually preparing for something to say. In his own composition, Confini, which followed, the composer/performer used every inch of the instrument (inside and out, reaching past the keyboard and attacking the strings like a technician determined to show his creative bent), and didn’t hesitate to pop his mouth or slap his thighs and stomp his feet to add further elements of percussion to the largely pastel hues emanating from the keyboard.
Debussy’s Violin Sonata was given an impassioned performance by Charles Castleman and Hoca. In the early going the lines oozed wonderfully, the harmonics floated ethereally and Castleman got “into the string” with convincing bravado. Hoca stayed with her colleague at every turn and drew warm, rich tone that served as the perfect foil. Not as successful was Ysaÿe’s solo sonata (Op. 27, No. 6). Here, Castleman’s left hand couldn’t keep up with the skill of his bow-arm, resulting in a committed performance tinged with some sour pitch.
The full-length program also contained much poetry. The indefatigable Hoca teamed up with soprano Tony Arnold for a set of Lieder from Hugo Wolf. “Im Frühling” was eloquent and lovingly shaped; “Auf ein altes Bild” had near-perfect ensemble and featured beautifully rich legato from both performers and a true diminuendo al niente. The ghost of Wagner marvellously haunted “An den Schlaf.” In the pair of Goethe songs, “Gleich und Gleich” was appropriately light and saucy but “Ganymed,” after an uncertain start, never managed to congeal into a satisfying whole.
On paper, the idea of starting each half with selections from a newly translated version of Torquato Tasso’s The Liberation of Jerusalem seemed a sure-fire way of drawing both literary and chamber music aficionados into the hall. Sadly, Max Wickert’s reading of his own verses was marred by frequent stumbles and misfires that robbed the audience of their chance to savour the juxtaposition of word art and pure sound. With so many capable actors on both sides of the Niagara River, more’s the pity one wasn’t engaged to do justice to the text and stay at least on a par with the first-rate musicians that followed. JWR