On February 27th I made my way into WGBH’s elegant Fraser Studio for an evening of world-class chamber music, courtesy of Mistral, a Boston-based ensemble whose motto is “Unstuffy. Unpredictable. Unmatched.” This concert was part of WCRB’s Massivemuse line-up, which opens its doors to music lovers over the age of 21 and seeks to bring in younger audiences to experience live classical music. One can have beer, wine, and cookies and meet new friends. Present that night were two of Mistral’s fifteen members: harpist Ina Zdorovetchi and flutist (and founder) Julie Scolnik. From beginning to end, this concert filled its audience with tranquility and delight, creating a complete, relaxed, informative, and exhilarating salon-styled experience.
The program began with Jacques Ibert’s Entr’acte, a fast-paced dream-like lullaby carved from rapid successions of modal flute notes and rhythmic harp thrumming. As Scolnik’s flute sang the melody, Ina’s harp crocheted rapid, delicate strands of interlocking musical webbing, ending with intoxicating flair that immediately established a friendly rapport with the audience.
Bach’s Sonata in C Major for flute and keyboard followed; Of course, the keyboard parts were arranged for harp. The three-movement piece was a congenial tour de force, that after many flutist fireworks was completed with a dexterous harp solo.
Scolnik mentioned that the Fraser Studio is an unusual space to play a concert in because it has absolutely no reverb, being as it is, a room designed for recording. She asked the house to turn up the reverb a bit, so as to create a more “live” experience. With the twenty+ foot ceiling and a floor lamp complete with shade beside the duo, it felt like wewere all inside a royal living room listening to the finest stories ever told by harp and flute.
A section they called “encore gems,” followed. Among these were a melancholy Donizetti piece originally written for oboe and piano, Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera, and Fauré’s Marceau de Concour. Each “gem,” induced serenity, yet encapsulated a facet of beauty all its own. Where Ravel was seductive, Fauré was whimsical. Where both were coquettish Donizetti was matter-of-fact.
Then Ms. Zdorovetchi talked about her instrument, explaining interesting facts about the harp: some of its 47 strings are made of gut, which produce a warmer tone. It has seven pedals, each with three different positions: flat, natural, and sharp. When you press a pedal, it changes all the corresponding notes of that pedal throughout the instrument. Red strings represent “C,” while blue strings are “F” and look black from a distance. Its average weight is 75 pounds and the entire instrument highly resembles the inside of a piano.
She then played from memory one of the most stunning solos I have ever witnessed: her rendition of Fauré’s Impromptu. Replete with sparkling glissandi and dreamlike dissonance, the piece brought her agile hands to exuberant life, as they twinkled faint remembrances of unconscious memories. A mesmerized audience held its breath and finally exhaled an enthusiastic, captivated applause.
After intermission, the musiciennes gave us one final enchantment: Histoire du Tango, a four-movement piece by Argentinian composer, Astor Piazzolla. He studied composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and is credited with transforming the tango into a new art form. Histoire documents the tango’s development, each movement named after an era in its history: Bordello, 1900; Cafe, 1930; Night Club, 1960; Modern-Day Concert. Evolving from a parlor Argentinian dance into a romantic listening experience, it picks up pace in the mid twentieth century, eventually becoming entwined with modern music. The last movement incorporates advanced harmonies and extended techniques, ending with a lively flutter tongue flourish. The night of masterful chamber playing had ended. Nimble hands, extensive passages and phrasing, consummate dynamic shaping, and friendly banter combined to make this one exceptional night of music that was enjoyed by both the casual listener and aficionado alike.
You can also see this review published on the Boston Music Intelligencer here.