Showing posts with label Amy Leonard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amy Leonard. Show all posts

Friday, November 2, 2018

Pyxis Lights Up Market Street Music Festival Concert Series

By Christine Facciolo
The Sunday, October 14, 2018 concert by Pyxis Piano Quartet — as part of Market Street Music's Festival Concert series — at Wilmington’s First & Central Presbyterian Church revealed once again the abundance of talent within each member of this laudable ensemble.  Members include Luigi Mazzocchi, violin; Amy Leonard, viola; Jennifer Jie Jin, cello and Hiroko Yamazaki, piano.


This 90-minute program offered works from the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries, including two of the most demanding in the repertoire: Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478 and Mendelssohn’s Piano Quarter in F minor, No. 2, Op. 2.

Mozart seems to have invented the piano quartet. There are no examples of the genre among his contemporaries or immediate predecessors, including the very inventive Haydn. He left only these two work but they count among the very best in the repertoire.

Mozart’s G minor quartet grew out of a commission from the Viennese publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister for three such works. The remaining two were canceled when the publisher felt the finished work was too difficult for the amateur musician 
 the usual market for keyboard-based chamber music.

Pyxis Piano Quartet (L-R): Amy Leonard, violaHiroko Yamazaki, piano; Jennifer Jie Jin, cello Luigi Mazzocchi, violin.
The quartet features true chamber music equality of part-writing, juxtaposing concerto-like passages in the piano with others in which the instrument fades and blends in with the strings in a lively interplay. The musicians effectively kept up the momentum throughout a cliffhanger of a development section which often hints at a resolution only to give way to other material. The second movement captivated with the sheer beauty of the playing, while the ensemble’s gentle handling of the phrasing in the finale provided a joyous conclusion to this darkly dramatic work.

Pianist Hiroko Yamazaki assumed an even more virtuosic role in Mendelssohn’s F minor quartet, while the string players offered less flamboyant bits, albeit ones that carried the thematic material. Leonard’s viola got to show off its high register during the exposition of the second theme. Yamazaki again displayed virtuosic technique in the rolling figurations throughout the Adagio movement which exhibited pure early Romanticism. The strings at last assumed an (almost) equal footing with their keyboard companion in the whiplash final movement.

The concert opened with a fine performance by Mazzocchi and Leonard of Martinu’s Three Madrigals for the (seemingly) austere combination of violin and viola. Each artist exaggerated the sounds of their instruments: Mazzocchi played up the brightness of the violin while Leonard reveled in the richness and warmth of the viola. 


It would have been tempting to blend the sounds but this approach maintained the independent voices when it mattered most. The result was what sounded like a unique instrument with a remarkable range of timbre and pitch. The two instruments matched when in the same range, establishing unity while preserving the individual capabilities of both. This was exploited to maximum effect during the playful competition of the many imitative passages.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pyxis Brings Beethoven & Faure to Life on Market

Pyxis Piano Quartet performs at Market Street Music.
Photo by Joe Gawinski.
By Christine Facciolo
Market Street Music welcomed spring and Pyxis Piano Quartet to its Festival Concert series on Sunday, March 19, 2017, which paired Beethoven’s String Trio in G major with Faure’s Piano Quartet in C minor.

The Opus 9 string trios offer a fascinating portrait of the young composer bursting with ideas as he took a musical form born as the baroque trio sonata and gave it new life as only he could. But as striking as they are, they represent the last gasp for a form that would soon be eclipsed by the string quartet.

Pyxis wisely chose the first Trio of Op. 9, a gem from its opening note to its last. This performance of the longest and most difficult of the trios earned the ensemble a well-deserved ovation. The opening and closing movements were technically perfect in every dimension. The wonderful slow movement with its pastoral theme in the distant key of E major received a most moving, heart-longing treatment. The breadth of expressiveness was especially remarkable considering the movement’s simplicity of form.

A proper contrast to the Adagio came with the buoyancy of the Scherzo and then with even more vitality a throw-caution-to-the-wind finale. All in all, a fitting performance of one of Beethoven’s “best works so far.”

Violist Amy Leonard introduced the Faure Piano Quartet by telling the audience that while she and her colleagues couldn’t offer Paris in springtime, they could bring a bit of the city into First & Central Presbyterian Church.

Leonard also noted that while the work is cast in a minor key, it’s a “happy minor,” with a positive tone albeit with some hints in the slow movement of the turmoil in Faure’s personal life at the time of composition.

Leonard contextualized the work by noting that just as Beethoven was a transitional figure between the Classical and Romantic periods, Faure stood at the crossroads of the Romantic and modern eras. Indeed, Romanticism and its doleful heroics are left behind in this work. The first movement is a fluid blending of energy and lyricism. The high-spirited and virtuosic Scherzo delights with pizzicato-pricked perpetuum mobile fantasy. The grand Adagio imbues profound passion with classical restraint and balance. A soaring Allegro caps all with a shimmering major/minor gaiety.

Balance, ensemble, superb intonation and sensitive interpretation characterized this performance. None of the loud passages were overplayed. When one player had a solo passage, they came out just enough then returned to their dynamic place.

Special honors go to pianist Hiroko Yamazaki. Pianists have a special balance problem when playing in quartets because the sound of their instrument is so much fuller than a single string instrument. Not so here. Yamazaki was always at the correct level. Quite remarkable!

See www.marketstreetmusicde.org

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Nymphs and the Shepherd Close Brandywine Baroque's 16-17 Season

By Christine Facciolo

BrandywineBaroque warmed a late winter night and concluded its 2016-17 season with an all-Vivaldi program.

There was no grand thought or theme unifying the concert at The Barn at Flintwoods on March 10, unless it was the sheer delight in virtuosity and the delightfully relaxed approach to the music by all concerned.

The centerpiece of the evening’s program was a performance of La ninfa e il pastore (The Nymphs and the Shepherd). This rare and beautiful gem was composed in 1715 when the thirty-something Vivaldi became music director of the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice, a charitable institution dedicated to the care of orphaned and abandoned girls.

The work is not an opera but a related dramatic genre — the serenata. Serenatas first appeared in the mid-17th Century and were often composed to mark a festive or celebratory occasion. They usually consisted of two acts presented “in concert” by two or more soloists who did not wear costumes or act. In fact, there was no action to speak of. Rather, serenatas employed laudatory texts that featured discursive debates between allegorical figures. In this instance, the text refers to the trial and imprisonment of Jansenist propagandist Abbe Jean de Tourreil for his refusal to accept papal authority regarding the doctrine of predestination.

The Serenata a Tre: The Nymphs and the Shepherd paints a pastoral scene in which lust triumphs over reason. The lovelorn nymph Eurilla (soprano Laura Heimes) discovers that Alcindo (tenor Tony Boutte) with whom she is smitten is perfect in every respect save one: He is incapable of love. Encouraged by her friend Nice (soprano Julianne Baird) she sets out to correct this flaw. Passion gets rebuffed by false humility, love feigned becomes love in earnest and the chickens come home to roost.

Singers and players gave concertgoers ample opportunity to enjoy Vivaldi’s melodic gifts. The instrumentalists — Eileen Grycky (flute), Martin Davids and Edwin Huizinga (violins), Amy Leonard (viola), John Mark Rozendaal (cello) and Karen Flint (harpsichord) — played with enthusiasm and tonal finesse.

Laura Heimes was a pure-toned Eurilla, singing with lightness and agility while exercising consistent control and vocal precision throughout her impressive range.

Nice was a figure of wisdom as portrayed by Julianne Baird. Her soprano is lush and full-bodied, but she judiciously restrained her instrument to convey a steadfast sagacity.

Tony Boutte was delightful in the role of the hapless protagonist Alcindo who gets his comeuppance at the hands of the cunning nymphs. His tenor was secure and convincing as he negotiated the lion’s share of the virtuosity.

Both acts of the serenata were preceded by performances of flute concertos in G Major (RV 435) and D Major (RV 427). Soloist Eileen Grycky managed everything with her customary technical fluency and charm. These are hardly routine pieces and Grycky points up every turn with playing that uncovers the originality of Vivaldi’s idiom. The accompanying ensemble complemented with playing that was both spirited and superb. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pyxis Quartet at the Mainstay


It is so hard to get tickets for the Pyxis piano quartet Kentmere Concerts at the Delaware Art Museum that I traveled to Rock Hall, Maryland to hear them play in the Hedgelawn Classical Music Series at the Mainstay.

The Mainstay, a restored 105-year-old grocery store, may not be the ideal venue for a classical chamber series acoustically, but the homey chairs and sofas, the amiable and knowledgeable concert hosts and the charming atmosphere made up for the informality of the setting, and the Mainstay organization has their own small, well-maintained Kawai grand.

The quartet’s program was both ambitious and eclectic. A little known set of four pieces which Richard Strauss wrote in his teens provided the quartet with an opportunity to create characterizations - from the cello/piano introduction of the St»Āndchen (serenade) to the Middle Eastern rhythms and bowings for the Arabian Dance.

The second piece, the quartet by Joaquin Turina, put the string players to the test. Meredith Amado played very high violin notes effortlessly, with beautiful intonation and control. Jie Jen’s cello had a wonderfully rounded vibrato in the very romantic solo parts. Ms. Jen can make her cello soar to the extremely high registers required in the Turina with great ease.

The Piano Quartet in B-flat Major, Opus 41 by Camille Saint-Saens was a showpiece for pianist Hiroko Yamazaki who glided through the complex fugue of the Andante maestoso ma con moto at a very high speed. Amy Leonard’s viola playing was a beautiful middle voice in the fugal writing for strings and piano. The weaving in and out of voices by each musician provided a beautiful tapestry of sound.

If you can get tickets for the Kentmere Series Concert at the Delaware Art Museum on Friday , February 17, this program is well worth hearing. The Thursday, February 16 concert has been sold out for weeks.

See www.delart.org

See www.pyxispianoquartet.com