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SONOS Echoes in Kresge

MIT, BU Musicians Do Justice to Chamber Music

By Bogdan Fedeles

staff writer

Last Saturday, chamber music enthusiasts had the opportunity to attend a concert featuring the Boston area chamber music group SONOS. The well-balanced program consisted of Haydn’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano in G major, Dohnanyi’s Serenade for String Trio in C major, Op.10 and Saint-SaËns’ Quartet for Piano and Strings in B-flat major, Op.41. A small but enthusiastic audience, true to the intimate nature of chamber music, warmly applauded the fine performance of SONOS in Kresge Auditorium.

SONOS is an ensemble of experienced musicians who are also faculty members at MIT (Marcus Thompson, viola and David Deveau, piano) and Boston University (Bayla Keyes, violin and Michael Reynolds, cello). Well-known in the local Boston area, they have enchanted local audiences with their seasonal performances. Saturday’s concert was a good example of their fine musicianship.

Haydn’s Trio For Violin, Cello and Piano in G major is a peculiar piece that clearly illustrates Haydn’s innovative tendencies, even though it is one of his mature pieces. The piece places a lot of weight on the piano, which carries the melody most of the time, while the strings are often used for doubling. The first movement parsimoniously presents a lighthearted theme which it progressively develops and embellishes. Given the simplicity of the music, each note is very important in its context and requires extreme clarity and precision. SONOS delivered an accurate performance, paying close attention to articulation and carefully balancing the dynamics of each phrase. Even the unyielding doublings developed new meaning when the strings emphasized their legato capabilities and the piano played una corda.

The second movement was very lyrical, the soft touch of the piano blending harmoniously with a carefully phrased violin melody. The last movement, “all’Ongarese,” might explain why this trio is sometimes dubbed ‘Gypsy’. Sudden rhythmic changes throughout an exhilarating, rhythmic drive remind of folk music. A crystal clear interpretation in the piano part gave the true expression of Haydn’s wit, while the strings accurately echoed the thematic material. Overall, Haydn’s Trio was refreshing, full of verve and sentiment.

SONOS followed the Haydn with a bright rendition of another interesting piece, Dohnanyi’s Trio For Strings Op.10. In an attempt to deliver an full-bodied sound with only three instruments, Dohnanyi wrote a rather difficult yet concise piece that fully employs the versatility of strings. Many double and triple stops, played well by SONOS, emphasize the texture of the music. The piece starts with a succinct march, in which dotted rhythmic figures alternate with fast scales. SONOS played the march with well-balanced dynamics and excellent cohesion. A lyrical movement followed, featuring a viola solo by Marcus Thompson, who showed a superb technique in the agitated middle section. The next movement, a scherzo, was terse and dramatic, due to well-executed imitations and voicing. All the chromatic motifs were especially well rendered. Another lyrical movement, the fourth, features more round sonorities. A dark chord progression develops in a set of variations, which SONOS played expressively and with balanced dynamics. Finally, the rondo flowed naturally, reiterating some of the first movement’s theme.

After intermission, the audience was treated to an exceptional performance of the Saint-SaËns quartet. All four SONOS members united their craftsmanship in a great rendition of a splendid, intricate piece. The beginning of the first movement is reserved, with light textures and predictable patterns, but the piece increases in boldness as it builds around a three-note motif. The piano is used in all its registers for both texture and melody, while the strings are treated as a block, in opposition to the piano. Careful articulation and dynamic changes gave this movement a flowing, lighthearted character. In contrast, the slow movement starts with a piano solo in G minor, which leads to a terse fugue that is picked up by every string player. SONOS’s interpretation of this movement was convincing, though perhaps a bit too fast.

The scherzo that followed highlighted the technical abilities of the piano. David Deveau made a strong impression, balancing the highly technical accompaniment passages with the more expressive melodic lines. While the strings doubled the melody with fidelity, the piano sounded more refreshing with every chord and scale until the sudden, soft ending of the movement. Surprisingly, the last movement starts in D minor (same key as the scherzo) and not in B-flat major (the key of the first movement). For a while, it develops as a regular rondo, until it reaches a recitative-like passage and a long cadence which all of a sudden resurrects, in full splendor, the B-flat theme of the first movement. This leads to a boisterous coda with an explosive, brilliant ending. The piano scales blended very naturally with the chords and long notes of the strings. The splendid, startling performance overall incited ovations and warm applause from the audience.

Saturday’s concert illustrated the beauty of chamber music at its best. SONOS delivered a great performance and an enjoyable evening.