• Music Review: Rowell spices up chamber concert
    By Jim Lowe
     | November 20,2013

    Provided Photo Violinist Mary Rowell was soloist with the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra over the weekend.

    MONTPELIER — Violinist Mary Rowell is becoming a big part of the Vermont music scene since purchasing a home in Brandon a couple of years ago. The weekend’s Montpelier Chamber Orchestra concerts at the Unitarian Church showcased the Craftsbury native during the first half of its fall program.

    At the Sunday afternoon performance, Rowell proved her flair and virtuosity in two intriguing contemporary works — both written for her — as well as a popular virtuoso showpiece, all conducted by Music Director Paul Gambill. He also led the community orchestra in Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” Suite.

    Michael Sahl’s “Milltown Gypsy Bowl,” written for Rowell and the Vermont Youth Orchestra, is full of Gypsy dance music. The MCO strings played with verve, as Rowell delivered the exotic solo line with a gorgeous lyricism and a nuanced rhythm that made this music truly sing. It was a joy.

    More sophisticated, but no less enjoyable or beautiful, was Eve Beglarian’s “A Big Enough Umbrella” for viola, two synthesizers and strings, which received its premiere (though it was written in 1984). Beginning with Rowell’s viola imitating and then answering a synthesized slap bass in a jazzy manner, it slowed into a pastoral section — imagine Vaughan Williams on acid — while the viola acted as storyteller.

    “A Big Enough Umbrella” is a work that bears repeated hearings to entirely take in, and Sunday’s performance by Rowell, Beglarian and Peter Krag on keyboards, and MCO strings made it enticing.

    Rowell’s stylish virtuosity was key to her riveting performance of the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Opus 28, by Saint-Saëns, that utilized the entire orchestra. Rowell’s playing, save for one muffed passage, was not only expert, she imbued it with the exotic Spanish flair by means of juicy slides and nuanced rubato. It was beautiful.

    Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” Suite was a mixed success. The ballet score was written in a crystal-clear neo-Baroque style that depends upon a clear and exact rhythm, regardless of how lyrical it is at any given moment. When the rhythm became muddy, consequently everything else did, resulting in some unfortunate moments. On the other hand, there were spirited and joyful parts like the Toccata.

    Concertmaster Kathy Metz did an impressive job with the Herculean solo violin part, and the bass section was amazing in its brief moment of fame. This is a most difficult work, and Gambill and the orchestra made a valiant effort.

    Gambill and the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra — with Rowell’s valuable help — have once again expanded the horizons of the Vermont music scene.


    For information about the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra and its upcoming concert, go online to www.montpelierchamberorchestra.org.

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