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Forever Young

The D'Angelo Piano Trio at Luther Memorial Church

Here’s a confession: though I write about performances, I seldom attend them. There are a variety of justifications for this, none of them interesting enough to list, but this weekend, none of them applied. Three nights, three performances. Here’s what I heard:

Friday: D’Angelo Piano Trio at Luther Memorial Church

As I wrote in ShowCase, the appearance of a new chamber ensemble in Erie is news, and the players here, Barton Samuel Rotberg, violin; Jonathan Tortolano, cello and pianist Shirley Yoo, all come with a reputation. The program, too, was compelling: Beethoven’s Op. 1, No. 3, Shostakovich Op. 67 and the Brahms C minor Trio, Op. 101.

The Beethoven opened somewhat soft-textured and got brisker and more unsentimental as the performance progressed. Rotberg’s lines were somewhat swallowed up by the acoustic of Luther Memorial, but Dr. Yoo’s piano sounded clear and lovely. The Shostakovich Trio is one of his wartime pieces, anguished and twisted, boiling with rage and lamenting sadness, the last quality nicely caught by Tortolano in the final movement inspired by Jewish modes and melodies.

The Brahms is, as Luther cantor Erik Meyer eloquently describes it, “a big hunk of red meat,” and is rather a lot for a new ensemble to digest. Still, it was full of lovely things, especially Yoo’s serene, airborne playing in the Andante grazioso . After the show, I asked what the D’Angelos planned to play at their “official” debut recital in the spring, and this piece was mentioned. Something to look forward to.

Saturday: Erie Philharmonic with violinist Tim Fain

Tim Fain’s unaccompanied violin CD, “Arches,” which juxtaposed works by contemporary American composers with Bach’s monumental D-Minor Partita is a terrific record and Fain is a terrific fiddler. He makes a dramatic appearance too – emo kid from the waist down in skinny pants and long, pointed shoes (a friend suggested that he looked like those old prints of Paganini – yes!) and Michael Cera-esque film star from the waist up.

His Beethoven was obviously deeply felt, but maybe a bit fussy. The first movement clocked in at almost 21 minutes, almost the same as Heifetz’s recording with Munch and three minutes quicker than the classic Menuhin/Furtwängler account, but it felt longer. I think he played the Kreisler cadenza, which sounded almost vulgar here. The crowd loved it, though, and rewarded him with an inter-movement Erie standing ovation. Fain stopped a moment to address the audience, and the gesture, however well intentioned, seemed to throw him a bit off stride. It certainly made the transition to the rapt, prayerful Larghetto less magical than it should have been. Still, Fain was a crowd pleaser and the Phil would be wise to book him quickly for a return engagement.

Dvorák’s Sixth Symphony is a secret crush of mine. I love the Brahmsian rigor and drama of the Seventh and the folkloric Bohemian charm of the Eighth (the Ninth, great as it is, is overfamiliar), and No. 6 combines the best aspects of both. From the big statement of the juicy, fanfare-like proclamatory tune in the opening movement, it was apparent that Daniel Meyer and his orchestra were fully involved in this piece. The playing, while sometimes coarse, was full of brio, and, at times, breathed in the unhurried way that Czech music must. Meyer grew up in Cleveland (called “the American home of Bohemian music” by a player in George Szell’s classic Cleveland Orchestra), and though he is too young to have heard Szell in person, something clearly rubbed off on him. One can hear an evening of Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances in his future.

Sunday: SoMar Dance Works “Movers & Shakers”

The choreography of Mark and Solveig Santillano never fails to make me smile. On Sunday, it made me giggle, snicker and laugh out loud. High art this wasn’t for the most part, and some of the humor was downright low. But I love Benny Hill as much as Beethoven, and this was a joyful day in the theater, the kind of afternoon that makes you glad to be alive.

The company of dance students at Mercyhurst College seemed to be having a blast, and their enthusiasm was incandescent. And it wasn’t just the kids. I’ve seen Mark and Solveig’s take on the Bugs Bunny cartoon, “What’s Opera Doc?” several times, and I might have been more delighted with it today than I have ever been.

There were moments that were by-the-numbers, but so what, when you can encounter something as dazzling and slap-your-head imaginative as “Tinikling Twenty Ten” that combined traditional Filipino double-dutch-like steps between moving sticks with tap. It was one part circus, one part Broadway and completely charming, a quality a bit in short supply on the art scene these days. I felt like a kid again.

Busby Berkeley thought we should dance our way out of the last Depression, and Mark and Solveig Santillano seem to have the same prescription for this one. This is art that adds to human happiness, and we can all use a bit more happiness, can’t we?

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