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Encore Players at home with soaring, beautiful music

 

Review by Ron Shapella

Bucks County Herald, April 1, 2010

 

Caryn Block, the composer and flutist, rearranges and recombines the musicians of her Encore Players to suit her musical whim. So far her whims have all been good ones.

 

For example, during a concert on March 21, at the First Presbyterian Church in Doylestown, she featured talented area musicians in a thoughtful program that carefully prepared her audience with a number of works at the outset that were guaranteed to be pleasing to most ears, especially on a very clement Sunday afternoon.

 

After intermission, though, came what Ms. Block really wanted everyone to hear. It turned out to be one of the most compelling and satisfying musical experiences that one could hope for in a venue not named Kimmel or Avery Fisher.

 

The first part of the program contained Bach’s Trio Sonata in G, which, if it is not one of the immortal composer’s most familiar pieces, was certainly welcome to all who gravitate first to music like it. Remember, though, it was a warm-up – for the musicians and listeners alike.

 

Next was a nosegay of six of Bartok’s “44 Duets,” delightful confections rearranged here for flute and violin. So far, so enjoyable.

 

Darius Mihaud was a noted 20th-century composer, but perhaps not one whose music is on most iPods. His 1955 Sonatine pour Violon et Violoncelle is quite contemporary, though, and in this setting allowed violinist Luigi Mazzochi and cellist Anthony Pirollo to display tour de force playing in a spotlight of their own. Block rejoined the trio for Haydn’s London Trio in C Major, another familiar choice and one that created a festive mood in the finale – Vivace right before intermission.

 

It is always fascinating to hear the new works of composers who live among us and Block’s own music inevitably becomes the focal point of Encore concerts. Her “Sea Scenes,” composed after a voyage to Newport, R.I., was something special. The first movement, “Seaward Bound,” started off with plenty of onboard activity. Block let a theme set sail that was utterly original, suggesting that while we were clearly under way, this trip was not going to be ordinary. Sure enough, “Sea at Dawn” set a pastoral mood, but in a minor key that indicated trouble was brewing.

 

“An Elegy” for flute and violin came in the middle, where it was unexpected. It expressed a feeling among the passengers that something might not be quite right with the trip so far. Indeed, the interlude for solo cello that followed brought things to a full stop.

 

Pirollo used a number of special bowing and fingering effects to portray the mysteries that populate sea lore. It was easy for the listener to imagine what was happening on deck, where passengers were likely trying to make sense of a dead calm and perhaps the arrival of St. Elmo’s Fire, if not large winged creatures of myth.

 

Next was “Storm,” where tensions swelled, but again expressed in Block’s original way. This storm did not feature large rocks and crashing waves, but rather a consistent tension making it clear that a safe arrival may not be in the offing, especially since we had already heard the elegy.

 

Villa-Lobos’ “Jet Whistle” followed, another contemporary piece that had the misfortune of finding the listener still in Block’s nautical otherworld. The program’s last piece, a Trio for Flute, Violin and Cello by the modern Hungarian composer Imre Sulyok shattered the spell.

 

Along with Block’s work, this trio made this concert a great one. Sulyok is not a well-known composer and this trio is a completely unheralded work. Yet it was as fascinating and satisfying a chamber piece as you are ever going to hear.

 

It was a top-notch performance by a trio of musicians who showed that they are perfectly at home in the modern, and that it is a place for soaring, beautiful music.

 

 

 

James Lorah House Resounds with Artistry of Chamber Group

 

Review by Ron Shapella

April 12, 2007 Bucks County Herald

 

The Encore Chamber Players is the instrument through which founder and composer Caryn Block is making immensely compelling music in Bucks County.

 

Her enterprise seems to have found a home in Doylestown's James-Lorah House Auditorium. Block specializes in assembling excellent musicians into ensembles that are determined to make memorable music. Mixing and matching trios of talented musicians, the Encore Players are making a statement in support of challenging music performed in intimate settings by accomplished women.

 

The March 31 concert started off with Beethoven's Variations on "La Ci Darem La Mano," which builds on variations on a theme from Mozart's "Don Giovanni." One great thing about the Encore Players is that the audience hears voicing of instruments that are a vacation for the ear. In a world gloriously filled with chamber concerts featuring strings, a performance of woodwinds is a pleasure all by itself. Not a string in sight, except for an unused piano on the stage.

 

In the Beethoven, Block, on flute, set the melodic boundaries in the first two variations. Bassoonist Kimberly Buchar Kelley took the lead with lively playing in the third, and the piece proceeded to feature all three musicians individually, including clarinetist Doris Hall-Gulati. All three performers were in top form, exchanging lead passages, building on harmonies and seeming to have a lot of fun with close, precise playing. Block has a knack for selecting musicians who work well together and clearly enjoy playing together.

 

Heitor Villa-Lobos' Choros No. 2 for Flute and Clarinet began with 20th century pastoral touches that soon brought in harsh sonorities and challenging rhythms and melodies. Villa-Lobos composed more than a dozen "choro" works for various instruments between 1924 and 1929. Block and Hall-Gulati discovered warmth and accessibility amid the modernity and generally informal comings and goings within the piece.

 

Ernst Toch composed Sonatinetta for Flute, Clarinet and Bassoon fairly late in a composing life that took shape in his teens. The first movement started off suggesting a march before becoming more dance like. Kelley and Hall-Gulati provided the dynamic variation that helped shape the piece around precise playing by the three musicians. In the second movement, modern sonorities resolved into beautiful harmonies before reasserting modernity. The third movement again seemed buoyed by Kelley and Hall-Gulati before culminating with great unison playing.

 

Mozart's Divertimento No. 1 in B-flat Major emerges from a group of compositions that are getting more attention than Mozart ever likely imagined. But diversions to a master remain minor masterpieces for us today and in five movements the Encore Players found much to be engaged with this music.

 

In her Dialogues for Clarinet and Bassoon, Block turned the stage over to Kelley and Hall-Gulati. One constant in Encore Players performances is that Block always graces the program with a gem from her own portfolio, since she is an accomplished composer in her own right.

 

The Dialogues began with a fanfare that dispensed with ceremony and began an exploration of modern sonorities and expression. The challenging piece clearly captured the imagination of the musicians, who performed it as a tour de force. Block's compositions in the last two Encore Players concerts have comprised music that focuses on the lyrical and the passionate. These Dialogues were challenging for the musicians and audience, which is a credit to Block and the type of performances she is providing to local audiences.

 

Walter Piston's Three Pieces for Flute, Clarinet and Bassoon concluded the program, leaving the listener grateful for the virtuosity that was on display for an entire evening in such a warm community setting.

 

The richness of woodwind voices can be as memorable as any, even if they aren't so often the subject of a full chamber concert. That's why the Encore Players remain a great artistic asset to the area.

 

Their founder is dedicated to the idea that communities deserve to be able to hear fine musicians perform great chamber music, and the knottier and more modern the better.