Music review: Lyra Music Festival concert a gift to the Valley


For the Gazette
Published: 7/13/2016 4:10:23 PM


A significant addition to the musical riches available in the Pioneer Valley has been the decision of the trustees of the Lyra Music Festival to accept the invitation of Smith College to hold their summer workshop at the college. It had been located for the past six summers in northern Vermont.

The three-week festival involves intensive conservatory-style training of young musicians, with Sweeney Concert Hall available for recitals by students and visiting artists.

This month, the visitors are pianist Frederic Chiu, violiniist Danbi Um and cellist Matthew Zalkind. All three have given public master classes and recitals as part of the program; an All-Star Concert is still to come.

Matthew Zalkind, who performed Friday, is a brilliant cellist with an impressive list of appearances throughout the United States and abroad.

His experience also extends to performances at treatment facilities in New York City, and it is admirable that this year’s Lyra students are performing at the Senior Center in Northampton and at retirement communities in Easthampton and Northampton.

Classical music surely must have a social mission as well as its primary function in recitals and concerts in public arenas for audiences who can afford to buy tickets.

Zalkind performs on an 18th-century Florentine cello, beautiful to look at and endowed with a melllow tone perfectly suited to the acoustics of Sweeney Hall.

He began with Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 in C major, a splendid introduction, well loved (and perhaps played) by many in the audience. The unaccompanied suite was the perfect vehicle for Zalkind’s fine musicianship and the power of his instrument.

The next piece was also unaccompanied, a Lamentation by the contemporary Italian composer, Giovanni Sollima. This composition was quite energetic for a Lamentation, and it required the full range of technique from the performer, including very high thumb positions on the A string (a thumb position is the placing of the side of the top part of the thumb on the string instead of the pad of a finger), and it is likely that the extremely high notes came as a surprise to many people. 

Sollima suffered in comparison with Bach, and Zalkind shrewdly returned to a Toccata by Gaspar Cassado (died 1966) based on a work by the great Italian organist and composer Girolamo Frescobaldi (died 1643). This was easier listening, while still showing off Zalkind’s technique. A simple piano accompaniment was provided by Henry Kramer.

After the interval came the well-known Cello Sonata in A major, Opus 69,  by Beethoven. Of  Beethoven’s five cello sonatas this one, the third, is the most interesting, both for its lively music and for its very difficult piano part, for which Beethoven composed multitudes of fast scales, octaves and chords, which have been the despair of many an amateur pianist.

Kramer, currently a professor in the music department at Smith, played them all with perfect technique and sensitivity to the needs of the cellist, and the performance was engaging and delightful, leaving its listeners longing for more.

After Beethoven at his best, Paganini (died 1840) was hardly a competitor, but his “Variations on One String on a Theme by Rossini” again allowed Zalkind to show off his brilliant technique, all on the A string. Not surprisingly the audience rose to its feet with enthusiastic applause for two brilliant performers who had given such pleasure. The lively chatter afterward was proof of their enjoyment.

The Lyra Faculty All-Stars Concert, featuring music by Liszt, Mendelssohn and Kodaly, will be presented Friday at 7.30 p.m.

The Lyra students will give a Gala Concert Saturday, July 23, at 1 p.m. Both concerts will take place in Sweeney Concert Hall.

Tickets for each cost $15. To reserve, visit





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