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2 Songs for voice, viola and piano, Op. 91 Johannes Brahms (1833—1897)
Space, in Chains, a song cycle for soprano (or mezzo) and viola Jessica Meyer (b. 1974)
Space, in Chains
O Elegant Giant
Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord in G major, BWV 1027 J.S. Bach (1685—1750)
Allegro ma non tanto
3 Songs for medium voice, viola obbligato and piano Frank Bridge (1879—1941)
Far, Far from Each Other
Where Is It That Our Soul Doth Go?
Music When Soft Voices Die
Alexander Vavilov, viola
Christina English, mezzo-soprano
Olga Talroze, piano
The junction of Summer and Fall always feels peculiar to me. The world that awakened with such difficulty in Spring, and entered into full bloom by July, is now slowly, unwillingly, being pulled back down into the slumber of Winter. When exactly do we turn this corner? When do these contradictory forces change their balance?
We might never know the answers, but after a Summer particularly ripe with incongruities we decided to put together a program that basks in all sorts of contradictions! Some are peculiar; others, unsettling; and most of them are downright gorgeous.
When writing the lullaby of Geistliches Wiegenlied for the wedding of his friend Joseph Joachim, Brahms had no idea that 20 years later he’d be frantically writing a second song to complete the mini-cycle and, more importantly, help repair the by-now troubled marriage. Despite being written two decades apart, the second song, nevertheless, now opens the cycle. The instrumentation of contralto voice, viola, and piano is highly unusual and was specifically written to be performed by the outstanding musicians it is dedicated to.
Where Brahms was looking to unite the sonority of voice and viola, Jessica Meyer chose a radically different path altogether in Space, in Chains. Throughout the quirky and highly inventive little triptych, the viola never seems to want to become vocal. Instead the instrument is busy depicting all sorts of minute mood swings implied in the text, and word-painting with incredible inventiveness, whether it’s rain droplets or “antisocial behavior”. Good thing the text, by acclaimed poet Laura Kasischke, is ripe with stunning passages ready for such unpacking.
Bach’s Sonata for Viola Da Gamba and Harpsichord in G-major is one of a few such works that we know with certainty he authored. Good thing too, since this sunny and energetic piece is certainly among our favorites! If by this time in the program you started developing any associations between the music and the Seasons, the warm and uplifting G-major of this music is almost certain to recall a Summer day. The shockingly gorgeous reverie of the Andante movement is a departure from its upbeat neighbors. It is even more enigmatic when you realize that its sublime effect is achieved without resorting to a single melody.
The winter of 1906-07 must have been especially cold and miserable to prompt the 27 year old Frank Bridge into writing three songs that mostly deal with separation and passing. “Far, far from each other our spirits have flown,” opens the cycle with what today sounds like an eerie premonition. To embark on such a subject is no small task, and Bridge certainly rises to the occasion. To begin with, all three texts are by outstanding poets—Arnold, Heine, and Shelley no less! The music, set to the Brahmsian ensemble of low voice, viola, and piano, is nothing short of breathtaking throughout. Viola and voice trade broad swaths of melody over the rich luster of piano passagework. This much French Romantic influence in a British lad certainly raises an eyebrow, but you won’t find us complaining about this particular oxymoron.
~ Alexander Vavilov