Twin Sisters Shine at Kingston Festival

By Channing Gray

The second installment of the two-week Kingston Chamber Music Festival got under way Friday at URI with a two-piano team from Philadelphia, identical twin sisters who played up quite a storm. Christina and Michelle Naughton, 21, are still students at the Curtis Institute for Music, but play like seasoned pros.

On tap was the D Major Sonata of Mozart, which was full of sparkling passages and some wonderfully tight ensemble playing. Even their trills were together. But then again, this is probably a piece they have played since they were old enough to reach the pedals on their pianos.

It was infectious playing, music making that’s hard not to get caught up in. The opening movement was upbeat, and the slow movement, gorgeous, the way the two players squeezed out dissonances and handed off melodies to one another.

And Friday’s program offered just a taste of the Naughtons. They will be back at the Fine Arts Center Sunday night with two great works from the repertoire — the second suite of Rachmaninoff and Lutoslawski’s “Paganini Variations,” which is a real showstopper.

Friday’s concert offered quite a mix of music, from piano, to strings and voice, a stunning set of songs by Faure, set to the poems of Paul Verlaine and sung by baritone Randall Scarlata, back from last year’s festival. “La bonne chanson,” or “The Good Song” is made up of nine brief songs about love, written on the occasion of the poet’s marriage, one that did not last.

Scarlata gave a little talk before singing, chatting about Verlaine’s profligate lifestyle, then launched into the songs with that big, rich voice of his. Every thing was so nicely shaded.

The Faure is written for voice, string quartet and piano, with the very expressive Gail Niwa at the keyboard.

But the highlight of the evening had to have been Dvorak’s folksy E-Flat String Quintet, which the players nailed. This was performed by an ad hoc collection of musicians, but they sounded as though they have performed together for years, the musical weave was so tight.

Ayano Ninomiya was the strong first violinist, and violist Burchard Tang stood out at the start of the lovely slow movement. Dvorak scored the section for two violas and a cello, creating a dark burnished sound. The rollicking finale was real joy.