Review: ‘Forbidden Dances’ and Late, Great, Mozart

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by Leslie Gerber, Woodstock Times
June 29, 2017

One way I judge my summers is by how many Aston Magna concerts I get to at Bard College. This series of performances by early music specialists offers some of the best music-making in the Hudson Valley. This year’s series began at the Bitó Conservatory on Friday, June 16, with an intriguing program called “Music for Forbidden Dances.” The first half was devoted to early music, the second half to 20th century Latin dances. The program opened with an entertaining medley of 17th century sarabandes and chaconnes, then presented more examples of each dance, including the famous Bach Chaconne played in dance-like fashion by AM’s Music Director, violinist Daniel Stepner. The Latin portion included music by Carlos Gardel, Luis Del Curto, Astor Piazzolla, and Robert Xavier Rodriguez, the last a suite of pieces based on documents from 1913-14 discussing and condemning the tango. Frank Kelley was the highly entertaining narrator and singer, and even executed a few dance moves. This was my first opportunity to hear a live bandoneon player, Hector del Curto (grandson of the composer), who also explained in the pre-concert talk the differences between the bandoneon and the accordion. He and his wife, cellist Jisoo Ok, are the parents of clarinetist Santiago del Curto, who played with outstanding technique and tone and looked to be about ten years old. I just loved this evening and I was dismayed that only about three dozen people joined me in the audience.

Twice as many people, still a small crowd in my opinion, turned up for the June 23 concert, “Late, Great Mozart,” a completely apt title. The Divertimento in E Flat, K. 563, despite its title, is a deeply serious and profound work, for string trio. Hearing it on baroque period instruments, which were still used in Mozart’s time, emphasized a gentle approach and facilitated excellent balance, but the Menuetto was still bouncy enough. The Adagio and Fugue, K. 546, is highly dramatic Mozart, rarely heard. Clarinetist Eric Hoeprich, an early-music star, joined the fine string players for the great Clarinet Quintet, playing a specially designed basset clarinet with a lower range than the standard clarinet, apparently what Mozart wrote his piece for. Its rich, mellow sound in Hoeprich’s hands was simply gorgeous, and I even heard some embellishments (a big plus factor for me) from Hoeprich and the strings. All credit to violinists Daniel Stepner and Julie Leven, violist David Miller, and cellist Loretta O’Sullivan for a memorable evening.

Aston Magna still has two concerts to go at Bard (and two more after that in other locations). On June 30 the great soprano Dominique Labelle joins instrumentalists for “Arias and Sinfonias from Biblical Cantatas an Oratorios” from the baroque era. On July 7, violinist Edson Scheid plays as challenging a program as exists, the complete Caprices for solo violin by Paganini, on a period violin. Aston Magna’s ticket price is higher than most local concerts ($40/advance; $45 at the door) but these concerts are always worth hearing. Info at www.astonmagna/org, where you can also buy tickets. Under 30 patrons: $15; Children free with paying adult.