Music review: Lyra Music Festival students offer joyful gala

For the Gazette
Published: 7/27/2016 4:15:54 PM


The students from the Lyra Music Festival and Workshop presented their final concert in Sage Hall at Smith College Saturday, before a good-sized and appreciative audience.

The workshop has been in residence for three weeks on the Smith campus.

The program was divided into two parts, with several short pieces interspersed with major pieces by Brahms and a few others before the intermission and a more weighty second half.

Many of the students had played at the Northampton Senior Center earlier in the month, and the improvement in their playing only 10 days later, when they were in an auditorium with fine acoustics and a concert grand piano properly tuned, was remarkable. Still, those who are aiming to be professional performers have to learn not to be upset by the slings and arrows shot at them by local quirks.

The youngest performer was 10 years old and the oldest 17. The excellent bowing of the string players was uniform, as was the proper positioning of the hands among the pianists.

In three of the earlier pieces the accompaniment was provided by the professional Vanessa May-Lok Lee, who ensured that the concert got off to a good start with a piece by Carl Bohm (d. 1920) played by the 11-year old violinist Gary Milshteyn.

Among notable performances in the first part were those of Benjamin Sokolow, 13. playing Chopin’s C sharp minor waltz; Veronica Klein, 11, playing the merry final Presto from the first Sonatina by Dmitry Kabalevsky (d. 1987); Brahms’s second Rhapsody, in G minor, played by Claire Récamier, 15; and Fritz Kreisler’s (d. 1962) Recitative and Scherzo played by 14-year-old violinist Daiwei Shen.

Shen is already an outstanding performer. He had played Bach’s “Chaconne,” from the second unaccompanied Violin Sonata, at the Senior Center, from memory with accuracy and power. I had heard him play part of it also at St. John’s Episcopal Church on July 17.

It is true that Kreisler cannot pretend to be a competitor with Bach, nevertheless, his work allowed Shen to display his extraordinary gifts.

The pianist Claire Récamier performed the second (and more familiar) Brahms Rhapsody flawlessly, after a courageous performance on an out-of-tune piano at the Senior Center.

After the intermission, the excellent cellist Dayoung Park, 17, played the familiar “Swan” from the “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint Saëns (d. 1921). Later she performed the first movement of the late cello sonata (op. 102) by Beethoven.

In the same performance spaces as Shen, Park had played the first movement of Bach’s “Fourth Suite for Unaccompanied Cello,” a very difficult piece, which she played beautifully each time. I missed it in this concert.

Park was followed by two fine piano performances: Andrew Lefferts, 17, playing the fourth Impromptu from Schubert’s Opus 90, was the most satisfying performance of the afternoon, with proper attention to the many dynamic changes in this beautiful piece.

Fifteen-year-old Julia Feldman gave a stirring performance of the explosive and very difficult Rhapsody in D minor by Brahms, the companion to the piece played earlier by Récamier.

After Schubert and Brahms, Max Milian, 10, played a piece from Debussy’s “Children’s Corner,” and he successfully made the transition from the fireworks of the Brahms First Rhapsody to the quiet romanticism of Debussy. Finally two movements of Schumann’s Piano Quartet, opus 47, were played by Shen, Park and Feldman, joined by a faculty member, Peter Rovit, on the viola.

Lyra has already brought new life to the musical scene in the Valley, not least by the readiness of its performers to play in community centers far different from Smith College. We should wish these young players well and hope that Smith will invite them back next year.

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