Impromptu Concerts attracts near-record audience to St. Paul’s
In its first concert of its 46th consecutive season of bringing fine music to the Keys, the Impromptu Classical Concerts drew one of its largest, most enthusiastic audiences ever. Featured last Sunday afternoon: the relatively new Sybarite5, a quintet of highly polished musicians with a brave, beautiful mission: to demonstrate the remarkably fine, modern music just two violins, viola, cello and double bass can produce.
The Sybarite5 program ranges ambitiously from classical concert-hall fare to Brubeck-era jazz, from Argentinean tangos to Armenian folk-melodies, from familiar favorites to adventurous boundary-stretching music-making by composer-friends throughout the world. The music is purposefully diverse, the level of musicianship dramatically high – and, often enough, entirely breathtaking.
The group’s Mozart Divertimento in B-flat major, for instance, appeared in a highly personalized, abridged version, 18th Century drawing-room music transfigured into a modern-day lighweight 21st Century morsel of delicacy and tonal control. The group’s Elgar was similarly re-imagined, and the surprises kept coming in a succession of expectation-exceeding musical treats.
The players themselves were equal to every challenge. First violinist Sami Merdinian set the pace, maintaining kaleidoscopic-tonal control throughout. And can anyone do more than Merdinian himself, with a long, drawn-out, almost too romantically tender a melodic line?
Second violinist Sarah Whitney offered first-rate surprises all her own. Her nimble, witty command of her instrument was particularly evident in the wispy sighs and perky string-plucking that never failed to bring smiles to her closely attentive concert-going audience. Her effects were unfailingly musical, never just stunts. “I never knew a violin could make such interesting, wonderful sounds,” mused one concert-goer, overheard at the champagne-reception that followed the concert.
Cellist Laura Metcalf, not to be outdone, offered a superlative surprise of her own. Setting aside her cello bow, she sang the plaintive song “Somewhere,” from Leonard Bernstein‘s West Side Story musical – accompanied by her four fellow-musicians. Her singing style was simple and sincere, and Stephen Sondheim’s song-lyrics, set to Bernstein’s music, could not have been been delivered with more convincing, heart-felt fear and longing.
The Impromptu’s seven-concert 2018 season will be celebrating the centennial of Leonard Bernstein with some of Bernstein’s music in each of its concerts. Next Impromptu Concert at St. Paul’s is set for Sunday afternoon, Jan. 21 – showcasing, in the Impromptu’s ongoing Rising Star series, the youthful cellist Jacob MacKey, already receiving international acclaim.