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Schubertiad at Wistariahurst

In the middle of Holyoke’s dingy, post-industrial tenements stands the Wistariahurst Museum. A gem hidden in the middle of the city, the museum is lavish and ornate. The music room is full of marble columns, arched ceilings, and tapestries—it’s an atmosphere that begs for culture and sophistication, and on Sunday, December 6th, the Chamber Music at Wistariahurst ensemble provided it.

The group performed their fifth annual Schubertiad on Sunday. The ensemble is comprised of eight performers—four pianists, a cello player, two sopranos, and a baritone—but also featured several guest performers. They performed 11 songs in total, and included both familiar and rare pieces by Schubert. Schubertiads, named after Franz Schubert, date back to when Schubert and his friends would come together to play his pieces.

The opening piece was “Schicksalslenker,” which featured a vocal quartet accompanied by piano. It gave great insight into what to expect from the group—the four voices blended perfectly. No one voice overpowered another, and each vocalist had a quality of seamlessness and fluidity.

The third piece, “Moment Musical,” was a piano solo played by Edward Rosser. His interpretation was visceral and romantic, and there was a level of deliberation in his playing style that seemed to keep the audience engaged and on the edge of their seats. It was a stark contrast from the “Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A-minor,” which was played by cellist Astrid Schween and pianist Estela Olevsky. Olevsky’s playing was more free-flowing, though the piece was full of understated tension that was gripping. The two players had a rapport that created a great dynamic. Moments of call and response and variations between staccato and legato playing made the song rife with emotion. Pianist Monica Jakuc Leverett, who opened the second half of the concert, also had her own style of playing—it was authoritative and bold, but also fluttery and reminiscent of snowfall.

My favorite selection of the program was “Auf dem See,” which translates to “On the Lake” in English. It was a duet between Rosser and baritone David Perkins. The song was inspired by Schubert’s frequent nature walks, and the two musicians made that abundantly clear in their rendition of the piece. The staccato, sprightly piano part was met with Perkins’s booming but controlled voice that together sounded like a rolling river over rocks.

The concert ended with a melodrama (a recitation of a poem over music), performed by Perkins and Olevsky. Though the piece, “Abschied von der Erde,” or “Farewell to the Earth”, was certainly relevant, it didn’t showcase the talents of the group like the other pieces did. It wasn’t as hearty or satisfying as the other pieces and left me wanting more.

It was apparent that each musician involved knew the songs they were working with—dynamics were uniform and expressed the different themes and moods of each piece precisely. They performed with a confidence that was professional and refined without being haughty—they made Schubert relatable and fun. This was also due in part to artistic director Perkins, who introduced and explained several of the songs through casual anecdotes and humor. Not only that, but the repertoire as a whole was a balance between serious selections and more fun ones. Making a classical music performance into something that is accessible and without pretension makes it something a person of any age or background could enjoy, and it was disappointing to see so few young people in attendance. The Chamber Music at Wistariahurst’s Schubertiad was evocative and entertaining, and was a great introduction to the winter months that would have made Schubert proud.

(disclaimer:  all of this is honest, I swear to god I’m not sucking up)