As for the pieces themselves, not all were great and they didn’t always fit well with the performers at hand. But most concert-goers have enough context to hear the promise of what the less-good pieces led to and know their idioms well enough to hear what the performers were after.
Both halves of the concert were built around larger instrumental works that take songs as a starting point for a set of variations. Schubert’s Variations on Trockne Blumen (from the larger cycle Die Schone Mullerin) is sort of a default standby in flute recitals: Though it’s the work of a major composer, Schubert seems to have turned into Paganini halfway through with variations that are more about virtuoso display than probing his own melody.
Dolce Suono founder/director Mimi Stillman has chops of steel, but chose to underplay the flute pyrotechnics, creating a logical progression of variations, each one its own world but with a stronger family resemblance to what came before and after. Pianist Charles Abramovic made you care about the logic with beautifully rounded, stylishly timed phrases. Has the keyboard part ever been better played?
Cellist Priscilla Lee took on Beethoven’s Theme and Variations From "Bei Mannern" (taken from Mozart’s The Magic Flute) in the second half with phrasing that was both gorgeous and intelligent, revealing the obvious reverence Beethoven had for Mozart’s music, turning the tune this way and that like a prism, and finding all sorts of beautiful angles and colors.
Much of the rest of the program was headed by baritone Brian Ming Chu, a Dolce Suono discovery from its Amahl and the Night Visitors performance earlier this season. His cultivated voice is notable mostly as a carrier for his good musical instincts and language skills, particularly amid the dramatic narrative of Schubert’s "Erlkonig."
However, his overall lack of coloristic range and lack of bloom in his high notes didn’t allow Mozart’s lovely "Ruhe sanft" aria from the opera Zaide to stay airborne, and failed to make a great case for the Mozart concert aria Per questa bella mano, a piece that, in any performance, shows how much the composer needed a plot to truly fire his creativity.
Contact David Patrick Stearns at email@example.com.