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From Redstone to Trinity

Friday evening, Nov. 8, the audience that filled almost every seat in the Redstone Hall had their expectations exceeded by the performance of the members of the Alexander String Quartet. This remarkable group of string players, certainly one of the preeminent string quartets currently before the public worldwide, played the following works: String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95 Serioso (1810) by Beethoven; String Quartet No. two in A major, Op. 68 (1944) of Dmitri Shostakovich and, after intermission, another Beethoven quartet, String Quartet No. 9 in C. major, Op. 59, No. 3 (1806). For cerebral intensity alone, this was a daunting program, but one which the audience attended with all of their might. One of the circumstances which made the program additionally memorable, was that this group of four performers has incredible technical facility that leaves the quartet world open to them, no matter what the technical difficulty. In this event there was a third governing factor that increased the attention paid by the audience members at least for those who attended the 6:30 p.m. pre-concert talk. The performers played on a suite of strings which were all made from the exact-same materials and crafted by a single violin maker. The sonorities that were achieved among and between these four instruments were quite unbelievable. The crispness also was aided and abetted by the craftsmanship of the players and the instrument maker. The Shostakovich Quartet bore all of his trademark sounds, as well as his harmonic and linear writing signatures. Although written during World War II when not only were the Russians being pushed by the Germans, but Shostakovich himself was in disfavor with Stalin it manages to explore a number of feelings, not all of them dark, although darkness and melancholy and wistfulness are part of the normal gesture-patterns of the work. The Alexander Quartet has recorded the complete set of string quartets by Shostakovich, and I look forward to listening to this quartet again as well as learning to listen to the entire string quartet output from Shostakovich. His genius is a remarkable one, and I never tire of listening to him. One of the few works in Beethovens output to which he personally appended a subtitle in this case, serious the Op. 95 quartet truly is a compressed work. The Alexander Quartets reading of the work was marked by the uttermost intellectual clarity, so that one had only to sit back and listen carefully to understand and to enjoy this great quartet. The last quartet played, the third of the Razumovsky quartets, was a jewel (although I think I like the No. 2 better). It was a great joy to hear the enthusiasm and brilliance with which the players exposed the music to us. The group, awed by the response of the audience, played an encore, a lullaby by Shostakovich at least I think thats what was announced, but I wouldnt stake my life on it. Lyric Theatre Company The production of A Chorus Line mounted as their fall show was also an exemplar of sensible casting. All of the dancers/singers were more than up to their parts. The casting of Kate Godkin as Cassie was as good as it gets, she could dance up a storm and sing wonderfully. Jacob Tischler played a very introspective Paul, and he handled his monologue, the longest in the show, with great sensitivity and otherwise danced up a storm. Don Patrick OConnell was a great Zack, and he and Jane Burchard danced up a storm in the final dance. The rest of the cast was marvelous also, especially Serena Magnan OConnell. Kim Nowland as Val could really sell a song, but she needs to work on changing registers. In the midst of all of this great singing and dancing, there is one thing that I thought was unnecessary: the ending with all its gaudiness. It would, as the Romans said, have been enough and more than enough simply to have had the brilliant gold costumes. The scenery that found its way onto the stage was unnecessary and unnecessarily grungy-looking. Bad idea. Dr. Atomic The Metropolitan in HD (high definition) offering of John Adams Dr. Atomic proved to be a real winner and the production gave the audience the opportunity to experience an opera-based on material that most of the audience had actually experienced after World War II. The singers were splendid, especially Gerald Finley as Manhattan Project director and atomic-bomb builder Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. Notable was his aria, Batter my heart, three-personed God, based on the John Donne poem (the true inspiration for the top-secret bomb test code-name Trinity the first nuclear blast, July 16, 1945). Kristine Jepson, Richard Paul think, Eric Owens, Thomas Glenn and the rest of the cast and chorus did all that was expected. If you missed Dr. Atomic, you missed out on a really terrific contemporary opera. Next up: Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust with a very up-to-the-second technical surround provided by the Canadian monologist and director Robert Lepage. Its not to be missed. The Shelburne Players Friday night, Nov. 14, The Shelburne Players opened their production of Noel Cowards Blithe Spirit (I need to tell you it the beginning that I was only able to stay for half of the play, because an injury which I sustained about six weeks ago started acting up, and I found it impossible to remain seated). What I did garner from what I saw was the following: The set was unimpeachable, a really thoughtful solution to all the needs of the play. My hat is off to whoever designed and executed the set; The costumes were some of the best costumes that Sue Wade has produced for a number of productions both at Shelburne and elsewhere, especially the formal dress in the first act my hat is off to her for a terrific job; The acting of Noni Stuart, who was the best of the actors in what I saw; some of the other actors were up on their lines (Jack Bradt, Georgette Garbes Putzel) and many of the actors were a bit nervous as to what might or might not be spoken to them; I was particularly unhappy with some of the directorial choices made by Colleen Alexander: making Madame Arcati a French woman; choosing not to utilize a British accent (a minor hitch); allowing a tempo, especially in the beginning, that was by far too slow; apparently misunderstanding exactly what a drawing room comedy should be, and how its pacing is different from ordinary exposition; the need for this speech here not to be natural, but to be elevated so that the audience can hear and understand what is being said and why it is being said, and if it is funny, evoking laughter. The Shelburne Players have rightly assumed a secure position for quality community theater. Im certain that this play will benefit from several more performances before it goes on the boards again next week I would say the play is worth going to see, with the qualifications listed above be taken into consideration. Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for the Times Sentinel. His column appears weekly.

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