Winsor Wins: Four Moderns Plus 16th-C Susato
Since its founding by oboist Peggy Pearson, in 1996, Winsor Music has become a multifaceted and positive force in the Greater Boston music scene. Violinist Gabriela Díaz and clarinetist Rane Moore took over as co-directors in 2017, continuing the group’s imaginative and varied chamber music concert series, commissioning new works, promoting and supporting outreach and community service, and collaborating with Emmanuel Music and Oberlin College in The Bach Institute.
On the last evening of this Thanksgiving Weekend, the group dished up a delightfully varied repast at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline featuring the exciting pianist Stephen Drury, who played two epigrammatic pieces by Frederic Rzewski, “Down by the Riverside” and the “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues,” from the four contrasting North American Ballads, as well as the piano part in the Charles Ives Piano Trio. They also served up a world premiere commissioned by Winsor Music from the multi-talented young Cambridge-based composer and pianist, Osnat Netzer.
The Rzewski works proved riveting. Drury began each by reciting the lyrics of the two ballads. Riverside reflects gospel, but also protest and an antiwar sentiment. The initial happy key of D major lends a sense of optimism, at least for me, and the piece morphs as it goes, insightfully wrought by Drury. The next section is contrapuntal, with some elements of jazz, followed by a climactic section that allows for improvisation, ending again with a gospel sense and coda. The total impression it leaves is one of strength, in which Drury did a masterful job at inserting the other melodies that Rzewski wove into the piece. Then came the Cotton Mill Blues, with the clamoring and banging sounds of an infernal machine. Drury’s delivery conveyed the ablation of humanity that comes with this history. The crowd loved the rowdy, intense, yet moving, performance.
Much has been written about Ives’s rich trio, which he composed six years after graduating from Yale in 1904 and revised further in 1914-15. Played by Drury, Díaz and Popper-Keizer, it constituted an apt closer, even in the shadow of Boston colleges and universities. The trio starts with a moderato that echoes music of the period and consists of three repeats of a 27-measure theme and development, and then moves on to an uproarious second movement scherzo, appropriately entitled TSIAJ (This Scherzo Is a Joke), in which many Yale songs and features (some referencing the now controversial party frat Delta Kappa Epsilon—ΔΚΕ, which was founded at Yale) are included, and ends with a lyrical moderato con moto that contains interspersed period music and some syncopated sections. The group made music with ease and confidence.
Netzer’s They bury their dead with great ululations featured Díaz, Popper-Keizer, Moore (on bass clarinet) and Pearson; the name refers to the ancient and society-spanning tradition of hiring women to wail and pull at their hair at funerals, loudly expressing what many actual mourners find difficult. The work is a compositional tour-de-force of what each instrument can do as it depicts the phases of public mourning: screaming, weeping, gasping for breath and finally, winding down. Each section might have bridged a bit more to its companions. That said, I want to hear ululations again.
The evening had begun with Díaz’s able arrangement of several movements of 57 short and simple pieces that constitute The Danseyre by 16th-century Netherlands composer Tielman (or Tylman) Susato, whose musical life included writing, teaching, performance and creating a music publishing house. Díaz, Peggy Pearson (oboe), Moore, Rafael Popper-Keizer (cello) and Jeffrey Means (percussion) played with verve. The first movement La Morisque is sprightly and seems seasonal, conveying a light feeling; upbeat renditions of four other movements followed: – Ronde I: pour quoy, Den hoboecken dans, De post and Ronde IX.
And one cannot neglect to report on a short gem: the late Lee Hyla’s Amore Scaduto (or expired love) from 2004, in which violin and cello reflect each other. Originally written for violin and cello plus two dancers, Díaz and Popper-Keizer managed to convey, without terpsichorian assistance, its entwining and un-entwining of the vicissitudes of important love to near perfection. Hyla, who died in 2014, graced Boston and NEC with his teaching, performing and composing.
Winsor’s imaginative programming and skillful, enthusiastic performers constitute an important gift to greater Boston. Many in attendance told them so at a celebratory reception that concluded the long holiday weekend with a fine uplift.