The Fondren 5th Annual Mothers’ Day Chamber Concert, May 14, 2017, featuring

the Fondren Quartet, with Viola Dacus, Kim Porter, and Angela Willoughby

 

The program opened with the four regular members of the Fondren Quartet performing three movements from Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 131, c# minor. String instrumentalists Vince Massimino, Ausra Jasineviciute, Milena Rusanova, and Veronica Parrales performed the “Theme and Variations” with remarkable coordination and expressive dynamics. Massimino’s melodic line in the violin soared above the violin and cello without overpowering the other essential instrumentation. As variations passed the melody to different instruments and through various harmonic shifts, deep tones echoed through the room when the cello took up the melody. Delicate trills echoed between musicians seemed almost quieter than one would expect possible, and the first movement concluded with final plucks of the strings that the players synchronized as expertly as the rest of the movement.

 

The next movement featured many tempo alterations that again displayed the quartet’s impressive unity. Virtuosic technical demonstrations remained imbued with musicality at all times, and the violins’ easy use of the upper register never revealed the difficulty of the range to the listener. In the closing movement, Parrales’s counter melody in the cello range clear before the piece gave way to smooth descending scalar patterns. After several exciting false conclusions, all instruments shared an intense and dramatic repetition of main theme to end the piece.

 

The center of the program presented several compositions from local composer James Sclater. As Professor Emeritus of Mississippi College, Sclater has long gifted the area with works that often combine original music with original text as well, and the work was performed by fellow MC professors Viola Dacus and Angela Willoughby.

 

The first piece, No Fairer Island On Which to Dwell, consisted of three movements dedicated to the loving memory of his wife, Judy Sclater. All text appeared printed in the bulletin. The opening movement, “No Greener Grass”, opened with an ascending piano passage over which Dacus sang expressively and with clear diction. Her voice easily navigated the chromatic harmonic shifts in the accompaniment. The concluding extended chromatics resolved with an exquisite harmonic shift following the word “doubts,” as if to signify the questions resolved by the final chord in the piano’s lower range.

 

The second movement, “Precious Gifts”, began in the piano’s upper register as though illustrating a dream or vision. After the text reminisced “the essence of your joy,” accompanist Angela Willoughby effortlessly swept across the piano’s range. The line “I lie awake remembering” repeated and gave way to the ending of a single, hanging note that seemed to represent love that has no true conclusion.

 

In the last movement, “You Are Never So Lovely”, the accompaniment fluttered like hummingbirds described in text. This also provided a change in mood from the previous movement’s somber ending. The line “circling hawks” required flexibility in the voice that Dacus demonstrated with ascending circular patterns.

 

The heartfelt text alone deserves its own attention, as it could have stood alone on its merit. Complemented by music, one could not have imagined a more artistic tribute to love and loss.

 

The Fondren Quartet and Kim Porter, soprano, presented the next of Sclater’s compositions. Ann Street, Thanksgiving, 1949 narrated a story with paragraph breaks in the program notes that assisted the listener in following along. Text painting occurred throughout, as in the plucked strings that accompanied description of a mother’s careful work.

 

The scene depicts a family gathered for a holiday, opened by a father’s solemn opening prayer. His son considers the meaning of the moment, and later on, wonders what life will hold for him. The greatest musical tension occurs on the line “they cannot tell me who I am,” referring to his family.

 

Despite the future’s uncertainty, the family’s gathering still comforts the narrator for years afterward. He concludes, “Their simple gifts of long ago will echo still in shining corridors they will not walk and cannot see.” This line musically appears as a sort of coda, and “corridors” reaches a high note like the word “angels” in the line preceding it, allowing Porter to display her crystalline range. “Will not walk and cannot see” appears to end the piece on a haunting note, but the accompaniment resolves to a major chord reminiscent of light and stability provided by this precious memory.

 

The final two pieces featured Kim Porter and Viola Dacus in duet with Angela Willoughby accompanying. Before these final pieces, Dacus read the text aloud so that audiences unfamiliar with the works could understand the Latin and French. Vivaldi’s “Laudamus Te from Gloria highlighted their ability to blend despite differing vocal colors, and the singers and pianist performed with the same unity as the string quartet. 

 

Finally, Delibes’s “Sous le dôme épais” from Lakmé closed the program on a lighthearted note. Also known as the “flower duet,” this classic staple featured the two singers’ voices floating gently as if along the river described in the song. As Mother’s Day occurs in a season particularly known for sunshine and blooming greenery, the flower duet imparted an appropriately lovely conclusion.

 

A program of old and new music, both deeply sensitive and lighthearted, provided much variety free of charge to attendants. Many thanks to Fondren Presbyterian Church for the use of their sanctuary, as in previous years, for this musical Mother’s Day afternoon.

Amy Lauren Jones©2017

 

Note: To read the Sclater texts (in the program notes) Click Here