The Dolce Suono Ensemble performs music from the Baroque period to contemporary classical and I had a chance to witness their range in a concert at the World Cafe Live in the September 2011. The Spring Festival on June 3rd was a bit of a departure from their emphasis on new music as it was concentrated on only the works Mozart and Schubert. One piece by Beethoven managed to slip into the program, however it was based on music from Mozart's "Magic Flute", so it fit the theme, and allowed cellist, Pricilla Lee, a chance to show off her warm tonality along side Charles Abramovic's sensitive piano accompaniment. In an unusual twist, the program alternated pianists, Abramovic and Jeremy Gill, as they switched between playing and turning pages throughout the evening. They even joked during the reception about their fleeting thought to switch places in the middle of one of the pieces in a Victor Borge style fashion.
The topics of the program ran through an emotional rollercoaster and, as artistic director, Mimi Stillman, mentioned; involved a lot of dead flowers. The first two selections, Schubert's Der Wanderer and Ganymede provided interesting contrasts, and the original soprano part in Ganymede was transposed and worked well as delivered expressively by baritone, Brian Ming Chu. The next work, Schubert's Variations on "Trockne Blumen" from Die schone Mullerin, was my personal favorite. Mimi Stillman's silky smooth flute and the seamless passing of the lead roll between flute and Abramovic's piano part and then back again gave each a chance to shine. Coordination is somewhat tricky without direct eye contact or the visual cues one might get from a string player, but they passed the baton with precision. Even tighter teamwork was required in the sections where the flute provided the harmonies for the melody on the piano.
We were introduced to the concept of a concert aria with Steven Stucky's arrangement of Mozart's Per questa bella mano, which originally contained a very difficult double bass part. The concert aria is typically written to show off the talents of a specific singer and is intended to stand alone, as opposed to its normal spot in an operatic work. Stucky's arrangement replaced the bass with cello and included the other instruments in the full Dolce Suono line up for the evening: baritone, piano and flute. Observing how difficult the cello part was, I could only imagine what a challenge it would be on double bass.
The second half of the concert included more contrasting Schubert lieder and ended with his chilling Erlking, arranged by Stucky for the full ensemble. The Trinity Center for Urban Life was filled to the point where late arrivals were required to split up to find individual seats. The church was a wonderful setting for this kind of concert. Just enough liveliness in the acoustics to accentuate a small ensemble but not so much that it muddied the sound. It was especially complimentary to Stillman's flute. There was also the rare feature of flexible space and reasonably comfortable seating. There was no doubt that the audience was knowledgeable and appreciative, but the questions raised by those that attended the reception demonstrated just how high the bar was set.
If you are a fan of Debussy, make sure you keep an eye on Dolce Suono's 2012/2013 season as they will be celebrating his 150th anniversary. Of course new music will included in the repertoire which will also include the results of their first ever Young Composers Competition.
Note: Schubert's Nacht und Traume started off the second half and I stumbled across this version with the famous and recently deceased baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau so I included here:
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