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Music review: Concert celebrates music of local composers Ronald Perera, Donald Wheelock

The Sage Chamber Music Society presented a concert Sunday of music composed by Ronald Perera and Donald Wheelock, emeritus professors of music at Smith College in Northampton.

Formerly the Smith Chamber Music Society, the Sage Chamber Music Society is a faculty ensemble dedicated to performing chamber music from Baroque to new, according to the college’s website.

Each part of the concert began with a group of songs, sung by Karen Smith Emerson, soprano, also a music professor at the college, accompanied on the piano by Clifton J. Noble Jr., himself a prolific composer.

Emerson began with “Shakespeare Songs,” five lyrics by the Bard set to music by Perera, of which the last, which asks “What is love?,” was especially effective.

Later Emerson sang “Voices,” four songs written especially for her by Wheelock. The cycle ended with “Farewell” — “to everything but loss,” as the composer wrote, yet, as Emerson dramatically sang, music lends its “Voices” to loss.

The first of the two instrumental works performed was Wheelock’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano,” composed in 1995 but given its first public performance in this concert. It was beautifully played by cellist Volcy Pelletier, whose mellow tone and skilled technique presented the music with the authority that it deserved. She was accompanied by Judy Gordon.

The final work was Perera’s “String Quartet,” written in 2004 but not heard in Northampton until this concert. The players — Joel Pitchon, violin; Romina Kostare, violin; Ronald Gorevic, viola; and Pelletier — did justice to this challenging and satisfying work.

The second of its three movements was a set of “Variations on a Mandolin Tune,” written as an homage to Perera’s grandfather, who was a concert mandolinist. The movement was played with deep feeling, and was the high point of the concert.

Few small towns can boast the creative resources that were exhibited in this concert. It was a privilege to attend, and one hopes that this music will be heard by wider audiences.

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