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Photo by John Rudoff
Photo by John Rudoff

Portland's All Classical Radio offers its first Lovefest Concert

By HOLLY JOHNSON // A concert, a party, a singalong. All Classical Portland’s Lovefest Concert on Feb. 15 brought sweet, wild life to the Alberta Rose Theatre.

It was a concert: It was a party: It was a singalong. All Classical Portland’s Lovefest Concert on Feb. 15 brought sweet, wild life to the cozy 400-seat Alberta Rose Theatre in Northeast Portland. The benefit for the classical radio station 89.9 FM pulled out all the stops musically.

Featuring hand-picked pieces, often duets, by married couples who are also local classical musicians, the evening stretched over a variety of sounds, from Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” (Think Fred and Ginger in “Top Hat”) to Bach’s sublime first movement of Concerto for Oboe & Violin I C minor offered by oboist Martin Hébert and his wife Paloma Giffin Hébert (Pianist Cary Lewis also performed). Exciting contemporary works by local composer Kenji Bunch mingled with 17th-century baroque pieces played by the incomparable string artist Monica Huggett.

Romance threaded through the evening’s theme (but classical was at its core). Roving accordionist Mike Danner took us to Paris’ Left Bank before the show with “I Love Paris” and more. Bunch on viola and his wife pianist Monica Ohuchi launched the evening with Prokofiev’s introduction to Romeo and Juliet, lush, sweet and intimate with just two instruments.

Pumping up the passion a bit, what followed was “Il core vi dono” (“this heart I give you”) from Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti, ardently and playfully rendered by spouses mezzo Angela Niederloh (looking swanky in a long gold-and-black jacket) and baritone Matthew Hayward: Their voices were delicious and their acting skills spot on.
The high spot of the evening for this listener were selections by violinists Sarah Kwak, Oregon Symphony concertmaster, and her hubby Vali Phillips. I hadn’t heard the works of 18th century composer Moritz Moszkowski before, but I am now an ardent fan. The two performed the second movement of his Suite in G minor, Op. 71, a piece hailed by critics in its time. It was a glorious sample of the romantic era, beautifuly rendered--graceful, reflective yet passionate. Lewis on piano added fine talent. The couple also knocked our socks off in the second half with an exquisite performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango. The two violins created a sharp sense of the bandoneon, the flashy, feisty concertina associated with Argentina and the tango. The work marks Piazzolla’s transition from classical tango to “tango nuevo.”

Bunch’s compositions and adaptations generally centered around Latin music, and the best of these was “The Last Night in the House of Flamenco,” inspired by a Spanish restaurant in Brooklyn offering Flamenco that he and his wife discovered: a place there one day and gone the next. It’s a dynamic, heart-felt flamenco inspired work for viola and piano, and the couple performed it exquisitely.

Married cellists Trevor Fitzpatrick and Marilyn de Oliviera performed an somewhat acerbic piece composed for them by Bunch. Lots of vigorous percussive bowing here, earnest, dark, tender and wistful,

Non-couple Huggett on violin and John Lenti on a rather mammoth lute completed the program with baroque selections. An interesting combo, these two instruments. The laid-back, thoughtful quality of the lute with the explosive passion of the violin. Huggett, artistic director of the Portland Baroque Orchestra and a world-class luminary, revealed her amazing string skills with some rapid-fire fiddling, grand double bowing and unbeatable articulation. Wow.
The final :”event” was a singalong of “La Vien Rose” by Edith Piaf, complete with English words printed in the program.

The 89.9 radio hosts, led by the station’s new CEO Suzanne Nance, introduced the musicians at the podium. The station hopes to make this “love concert” an annual event, singalong and all. Sounds like a plan.

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