Barry Plaxen’s Review of the Shandelee Music Festival 2019

August 7, 2019

The Shandelee Music Festival

Livingston Manor, NY

In the Heart of the Beautiful Catskill Mountains

Celebrate the 26th Season

     In Celebration of its 26th season, the Shandelee Music festival scheduled a delectable series of six quite-varied concerts. Opening on August 3 with Gladius and his solo guitar concert, which I was unable to attend, the August 7 return to the Festival of the Hermitage Piano Trio, last seen in 2016, was a happy occasion with this superb trio performing a mixture of well-known and not-so-well-known trios. “Each a soloist in his own right, they imbue their chosen selections with much technical power, inspired phrasing and, most importantly, profound emotion...” That quote comes from my witnessing the trio’s five-star quality, 2014 performance of Rachmaninoff’s Trio in G minor Elégiaque. Their performance of the one-movement masterwork was a shining example of the raison d’etre for attending ANY classical music concert. And they are Misha Keylin (violin), Sergey Antonov (cello), and (Ilya Kazantsev (piano).

This year on August 7, the Trio once again brought forth that ‘raison’ by performing Rachmaninoff’s Trio again, along with introducing another one-movement work, Alexander Aleksandrovich Alyabyev’s (1787-1851) “Trio in E-Flat Major.” Not only was Albyabev unknown to me and the rest of the audience, but the composer was also unknown to the musicians who happened upon his music just recently. He wrote mostly from 1790-1815, and though a Russian who never left Russia, his music is much like Haydn’s (in a happy vein) with a touch of early Beethoven (in a serious vein). A real find! The Trio is similar to the Rachmaninoff work in that the violin and cello seem to be duetting with the piano doing its own thing.

Two four-movement works followed. The first one came from the pen and ear of Horatio Parker (1863-1919), a contemporary of other important Boston composers such as Arthur Foote, George Chadwick, Amy Beach and the more well-known Edward MacDowell, all of them pivotal in the development of an American classical idiom that stood apart from its European ancestors and led the way for later American composers (Copland, etc.) to completely break ties to Europe.

Parker’s “Suite for Piano trio in A Major, op.35” had a nice, equal balance of melody, rhythm and harmony throughout. At first it sounded to me like no one else, but then I was able to discern some melodic similarities to Foote (1853-1937. (I know his music because I have a Foote fetish.) In all, as described for us by Keylin, Parker’s work leans more towards Dvorak than Brahms. I assume he was referencing its lightness and easy-to-listen-to quality rather than it containing profound, thoughtful drawn-out musical ideas, like Brahms’ works.

Then came Dvorak’s “Piano Trio in f minor, Op. 65,” which Keylin described as “symphonic and heavy, with surprise elements.” Yes, I thought as I listened, with those qualities making it deep and profound, more like Brahms than Dvorak.

The wonderful concert ended with an encore, the ever-popular and recognizable Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance # 5,” which is certainly joyful, folk-music-inspired classical music. Might I add: more like Dvorak than Brahms.

Then on August 10, Shandelee’s Sunset Concert Series featured the Ansonia Quartet, a “young” ensemble which was formed in 

September 2016 by former Juilliard students. Sumire Hirotsuru (violin), Byungchan Lee (violin), Grace Takeda (viola) and Isabel Kwon (cello). They thrilled the audience with their thoughtful, lovely and moving phrasing of quartets by Beethoven, Mendelsson and Ravel.

Beethoven’s “String Quartet Op.18, No.1 in F Major (#1),” was his first published quartet. Described as his “coming of age,” the quartet seems to be the perfect “next quartet” after all those of Haydn and Mozart. There is much of both composers in the music with new sounds added that could only come from Master Ludwig. The second movement was inspired by the tomb scene from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and it shows. Powerfully sad, aesthetically beautiful, and luxurious listening.

Similar adjectives (and adverbs) could be used to describe Mendelssohn’s “String Quartet Op. 80 in f minor (#6).” It was the last major piece he completed before he died two months later on November 4, 1847. He had composed the piece as a homage to his sister who had died on 17 May of that year, and it bore the title "Requiem for Fanny."

The program closed with the innovative sole string quartet by Ravel, the most-performed quartet in the local area within the last 10 years. Another masterpiece.

“Melody, harmony and rhythm are usually thought of as the most important ingredients of music. Ravel’s string quartet, written at the beginning of the 20th century, was nothing less than prophetic in the way it added a fourth element, sound, as a factor of equal importance. The alternation of playing techniques (pizzicato, con sordino, arpeggio, bow on the fingerboard) is as crucial to the unfolding of the piece as the alternation of themes. Their succession, especially in the second and third movements, creates a musical form of its own, entirely non-traditional this time.” - Peter Laki.

Needless to say, the above quoted description was evident thanks to the four “young” musicians and their intense and obvious dedication to the music they were playing.

The Shandelee Music Festival continues its delectable seson with concerts on August 13, 15 and 17., 845-439-3277.

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