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Musical Masterworks roars into its 29th season


Old Lyme — Musical Masterworks got off to a rip-roaring start as it kicked off its 29th season of classical music performances Saturday night at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, with artistic director Edward Arron on cello joined by veteran pianist Gilles Vonsattel and young violinist Stefan Jackiw making his local debut.

About 200 people showed up for opening night in a concert that will be repeated at the church at 3 p.m. Sunday, and the vibe was decidedly upbeat as the crowd gave the trio a standing ovation and even a few hoots and hollers not usually associated with this genteel setting. The concert featured works by Mozart, Ravel and Schumann that were some of the most adventurous and thrilling in their respective repertoires.

The concert began with Mozart’s Sonata in G Major for Violin and Piano (K.379), a work penned as the composer was being introduced to Viennese society in 1781, still only in his mid-20s. As Arron told it, Mozart was hard at work on the score even as opening night arrived for his first concert in Vienna, and Mozart was forced to wing the piano part from memory, a handicap that Vonsattel luckily did not have to emulate.

It’s a beautiful, romantic piece that had Jackiw rising up on his toes as he tossed off the luscious violin melodies while Vonsattel’s fingers cascaded up and down the piano in a waterfall of dreamlike arpeggios. The give and take between the piano and violin was like watching a balletic pas de deux that matched strength and agility while giving each its due.

Arron humorously introduced the next piece, Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor, by raving about its harmonic luminosity, gorgeous textures and exquisite craftsmanship, not to mention the finale that he said “ends in titanic fashion. …

“Not THAT Titanic,” he added, to laughter from the audience.

Indeed, Ravel’s trio written on the eve of World War I proved a true revelation from its sweet opening melody to the wild finish. Arron and Jackiw exhibited perfect timing in their frequent duets throughout as the cellist appeared to conduct the piece largely with his substantial eyebrows and furrowed forehead.

The phrasing throughout was impeccable and the romantic sweeps of emotion were played to the hilt as each player physically launched himself into the score, bending and swaying to the music. Beads of sweat could be seen forming on the two string players’ faces as their bows skittered across the strings, particularly in the fast scherzo of the second movement.

The third movement was a masterpiece unto itself with the low rumbling of the piano sounding like thunder in the distance, and the passionate theme is repeated eight times — each in a different way. At the end, there again is the finality of the rumbling piano in its lower register.

The final movement is less cerebral and more visceral, featuring exciting trills in the violin and cello, building in intensity toward the final burst of wild arpeggios.

Finally, Schumann’s Piano Trio in D Minor, Opus 63, featured lovely playing by the whole ensemble. The stormy opening movement gave way to a horse-trot dance in the second and a funereal dirge in the third that had the two string players closing their eyes and playing from memory and their hearts.

The final movement proved elegiac and brighter, “a joyful valedictory,” as Arron had put it earlier, and the trio dug into the fulsome, gorgeous melody to wring out the last ounce of emotion, flying up and down their instruments in perfect syncopation to deliver a final wild punch.

The next Musical Masterworks concert at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme will be Dec. 7-8. Click for tickets.