• Weekend music reviews: Vermont classical musicians prove themselves
    By Jim Lowe
     | April 23,2013

    Over the weekend, three classical music concerts proved that Vermont is home to some first-rate performing artists.

    Friday in Northfield, Cabot pianist Diane Huling showcased her virtuosity as well as Norwich University’s Steinway concert piano. Saturday brought Vermont Symphony Orchestra violinist Sofia Hirsch and cellist John Dunlop together with Northfield violist Elizabeth Reid and pianist Alison Cerutti in deeply rewarding performances of masterpieces by Mozart and Brahms. And Sunday at Middlebury College, cellist Dieuwke Davydov and pianist Diana Fanning, after 30 years of playing together, proved they are still superb performers.

    Sadly, only the Middlebury concert was well attended. In fact the Mahaney Arts Center concert hall was packed with enthusiastic fans of the duo. Attendance at classical music events ranges from a loyal few to sellout crowds, often unpredictably. But all of these weekend concerts were met with unchecked enthusiasm.

    Huling, one of Vermont’s finest concert pianists, is a bona fide romantic. As such, she delivered the pathos as well as the grandeur of two great works of Frederic Chopin. That meant she accentuated the lyricism of both the Polonaise in A-flat Major and Ballade No. 1 in g minor with a natural expressiveness. At the same time she plied the works’ substantial architecture, delivering their deepest emotions.

    Norwich University’s White Chapel has been home for a year now to a 7-foot Steinway grand piano that, in Huling’s capable hands, sounded more like a 9-foot concert grand. From the grand virtuosity of Franz Liszt’s “Un Sospiro (A Sigh),” from Three Concert Etudes, to the subtle colors of Chopin’s gloriously lyrical “Harp” Etude (Opus 25, No. 1), Huling showcased the broad possibilities of the instrument.

    Coloring was showcased even more in Huling’s articulate and expressive performance of Claude Debussy’s Impressionist “Poissin d’or (Goldfish)” from “Images,” Book II. In this odd program, largely of short virtuoso pieces, she also delivered potent performances of pieces by Busoni, Amy Beach and Frank Bridge.

    Three of the four players at Saturday’s Barre Opera House concert are native Vermonters, more evidence that this state is creating and retaining first-rate musicians. Only Reid, the violist, moved from her native Toronto to Northfield, where her husband is a professor at Norwich University. Their concert is the second in a new Barre Opera House series introducing outstanding Vermont performers.

    The major work was Brahms’ grand and virtuosic Piano Quartet in g minor, Opus 25. Cerutti, Hirsch, Reid and Dunlop played with unbridled passion, excellent musical taste, and real comfort with one another. Particularly the slow movement, Andante con moto, allowed for personal expressiveness which all three delivered warmly, followed by the wonderfully exciting Rondo alla Zingarese (Hungarian Rondo).

    Although not quite as comfortable as the Brahms, Mozart’s sublime Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 493, received an elegant, sensitive and expressive performance. The piano has the major part, and Cerutti played with flair as well as the necessary discipline — as, indeed, all did. “Bucolics,” by Witold Lutoslawski for viola and cello, though marred by some intonation issues, was played with spirit and proved intriguing.

    Sunday it became immediately clear that Davydov and Fanning are stars in Middlebury. The enthusiasm was palpable even before they started playing. Fortunately, their playing fully justified it.

    It was Mendelssohn’s D Major Sonata, Opus 58, that really showcased the duo. With no fuss, the two delivered the grand passion of the opening Allegro assai vivace; the light rhythmic drive of the scherzo, Allegretto scherzando; the personal expressiveness of the Adagio; and the light but exciting drive of the Molto allegro e vivace.

    Much the same could be said of Beethoven’s A Major Sonata, Opus 69, except here they employed a much more Classical approach. Particularly in the sublime Adagio cantabile, opening the final movement, the two remained rhythmically restrained, allowing the music to speak for itself. The result was beautiful and touching.

    Couperin’s “Pieces en concert,” through a bit reserved in the slow movements, proved spirited in the faster ones, and sensitive and expressive throughout. Fanning also performed three selections from Janacek’s “On an Overgrown Path” that proved both exotic and intriguing.

    Compared to some, Davydov and Fanning are on the restrained side. However, their expressiveness takes on a winning intimate quality that communicates deeply their joy of making music together. These are first-rate musicians who deliver expert performances.

    It was a fine weekend for music.

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