• Music Review: Unknown music proves richly rewarding
    By Jim Lowe
     | December 29,2013
    Jim Lowe / Staff photo

    Soprano Mary Bonhag, left, explains a song as harpist Jacqueline Kerrod looks on at the Scrag Mountain Music concert in Stowe on Friday

    Scrag Mountain Music creates unusual and unusually inviting programs, and Friday’s event at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center proved no exception.

    Joined by the South African violin and harp duo Clockwise, the artistic directors of Scrag Mountain, soprano Mary Bonhag and bassist Evan Premo, performed a potpourri of varied chamber music — all at a very high level.

    Particularly rewarding was Saint-Saëns’ 1907 “Violons dans le soir,” a lusty song for soprano, violin and harp. Bonhag delivered all of the requisite sensuality with a warm and brilliant expressiveness, complemented by Marc Uys’ lush violin sound, punctuated by Jacqueline Kerrod’s articulate and expressive harp. It was delicious.

    Bonhag and Premo, since moving to Vermont several years ago, have been presenting diverse programs around the area in hopes of building a new chamber music audience.

    Both conservatory-trained and veterans of New York’s freelance music world, they are expert players who chose to raise their family in Vermont. Bringing in collaborators from New York, as well as locally, they offer some of the most rewarding programs around.

    Premo, on bass, was joined by Uys in Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki’s 2010 Bartók-like Duo concertante. There was plenty of passion as well as musical conversation as these two employed virtuosity and musicality to not only make sense of this knotty score but to make it genuinely exciting.

    Another highlight was the Four Songs for Violin and Piano, Opus 35, by Gustav Holst (1874-1934). Bonhag’s lyrical soprano and Uys’ expressive performance of the sometimes complex but always beautifully expressive violin obbligato wound around each other beautifully. It was fine music making.

    Kerrod proved her mettle as well as her musicality in the John Thomas fantasy-like solo harp arrangement of the traditional Welsh “Bugeilo’s Gwenith Gwyn (Watching the Wheat).” Her performance was not only virtuosic, it was rich and flavorful.

    Not as successful was the opening Adagio of J.S. Bach’s E Major Sonata, BWV 1016, for violin and harpsichord. Uys, Kerrod (playing the harpsichord part on harp) and Premo (on the bass line), performed tastefully and with elegance, but Uys’ performance in particular lacked the overt but nuanced expressiveness of this gorgeous movement.

    Four songs from Benjamin Britten’s “A Birthday Hansel,” Opus 92, were quite entertaining, as was Premo’s performance of “The Swan,” written for cello, by Saint-Saëns.

    Particularly charming was the closing work, the 2008 “dancing into light — an urban walking song” by South African composer Péter Louis van Dijk. Although largely atmospheric, in this performance by Uys and Kerrod it proved fascinating and compelling.

    Scrag Mountain Music turned a program of largely unknown chamber music into a richly rewarding experience.

    Spruce Peak Performing Arts

    Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center will present the Young Traditions Vermont Alumni Concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4, as part of its Peak VTartists Series. For tickets or information, call 760-4634, or go online to www.sprucepeakarts.org. For information about Scrag Mountain Music, go online to www.scragmountainmusic.org.

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