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Musicians of Old Post Road offer powerful performance.

Byline: Joyce Tamer

The Benda brothers, Franz and George, are not familiar names to many music lovers; but based on a concert of their music Saturday evening, the two Bohemian composers have probably attracted a few more fans. The Musicians of the Old Post Road played one composition by each of the brothers in an unusual and interesting program in Washburn Hall at Mechanics Hall.

George Benda, who lived from 1722-1795, was an accomplished pianist and oboist as well as a brilliant composer. He is known primarily for his two melodramas, "Ariadne auf Naxos'' and "Medea.'' Melodrama in this instance refers to a type of piece with spoken dialogue interspersed with instrumental phrases; as the program stated, it is akin to "an opera without singing.''

The Post Road musicians presented "Ariadne auf Naxos,'' assisted by two actors from the Actors' Shakespeare Project, Marya Lowry as Ariadne and Robert Walsh as her husband, Theseus.

The two actors spoke their lines from a bare stage with only two props, a pillar that was a stand-in for a tree and a small stool. Strategic lighting that cast shadows on the rear curtain added to the emotional tension.

The actors dramatized their lines, which were delivered in a clear and dramatic fashion, and each line was "answered'' by an instrumental passage that evoked the meaning of the words or the story line. For example, when Theseus is called to return to the ships to continue as a hero rather than a husband, the instrumentalists played a perky little march-like tune; and Ariadne's reference to the rising sun was followed by phrases with rising pitches in the instrumental part.

The libretto for the melodrama, written by Johann Christian Brandes, is based on a Greek myth that relates the story of Ariadne who falls in love with Theseus. They travel to the island of Naxos where Theseus subsequently deserts Ariadne.

The latter half of the melodrama showcases Ariadne's rising terror at being abandoned, resulting in her eventual suicide.

Walsh, he of the mellifluous voice, was a strong and compelling Theseus, as he struggled with his love for Ariadne before succumbing to the call of the goddess Minerva to leave Naxos.

Lowry conveyed Ariadne's changing moods, from joy at the glorious new morning to increasing terror at being abandoned, with conviction and grace.

Four regular members of the Post Road group, Sarah Darling, violin, Marcia Cassidy, viola, Daniel Ryan, cello and Michael Bahmann, harpsichord, joined by guest violinist Jesse Irons, comprised the instrumental ensemble, and the interplay between the actors and the instrumentalists was fascinating and beautifully coordinated. Having the opportunity to hear and see this unusual musical form was a rare treat.

Saturday's program opened with the Flute Concerto in e minor for traverso, strings and continuo by Georg Benda's older brother, Franz. Franz was a virtuoso violinist, and his understanding of the capabilities of that instrument was evident in the exciting string parts he wrote as the accompaniment.

The concerto was in the usual three movements; the Allegro first movement featured a stylish interplay between soloist and string accompaniment and beautifully nuanced dynamics. The Adagio movement was elegantly phrased with repeated two-note phrases poignantly executed. The Presto third movement flew by, and through it all Suzanne Stumpf executed the solo traverso part with agility and musical understanding.

The unique sound of her period instrument was beautiful and the balance between the soloist and accompaniment was excellent. The playing was elegant and the ensemble playing was outstanding.

The Musicians of the Old Post Road are known for unearthing little-known music compositions and crafting them into interesting and unusual programs.They play with excellent technique, sensitive musicality and great panache. It was a pleasure to hear them, and a wonderful opportunity to expand our musical knowledge. It was a pity there were not more people in the audience to appreciate a wonderful musical performance.
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Title Annotation:Living
Author:Tamer, Joyce
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 13, 2015
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