November 9th, 2005
La Belle Musique
Francisco Salazar and Steven Zynszajn, violins
Amir Eldan, cello
Whitney Lagrange, viola
Steven Graff, piano
Mira Gill, piano
W.A. Mozart; Piano Sonata K 333 in B flat major; allegro, andante cantabile, allegretto grazioso
S. Prokofieff; Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor; 3rd movement, andante; 4th movement, vivace
E. Chausson; Poeme, Op. 25
J. Brahms; 3 Hungarian Dances; No.1 in G minor, No.5 in f# minor, No.8 in A minor
M. Ravel; String Quartet in F Major; allegro modesto; Tres Doux
R. Wagner/Hindemith/ La Belle Musique; Overture to The Flying Dutchman
La Belle Musique, a group of enterprising young Juilliard graduates, met once again in this congenial and inviting concert space to present an evening of varied works, in a mixture of styles and ensemble combinations. Opening with a piano sonata seemed the most fitting way to connect with the history of the instrument, given the setting amongst so many pianos in the AC Pianocraft - a showroom that specializes in the restoration of older instruments. This Mozart Sonata, a particularly melodically memorable piece, sets out its thematic material with operatic like dramatic intensity, and though not heavy in character or voicing, there were, especially in the slow movement, enough harmonic surprises to delight. Steven Graff performed with stylistic flair and elegance. His mature understanding of phrase structure and subtle pedal usage added to the nuances of color resulting in a spirited performance.
The second work on the program, the closing two movements of the second piano sonata of Prokofiev - gave the audience a lesson in music’s ability to paint strong images through sound, with a brooding energy carrying the sinuous right hand melody to the accompaniment of an ostinato –like left hand figuration. This music is not meant to please! A contrasting somewhat darkly humorous second theme provided some glimpses of light trying to peek through. The mischievous last movement, written in traditional sonata form, comes fast and furious, again with a contrasting slow section. I found pianist Mira Gill’s angular playing and propulsive drive well –suited to the piece. She also projected a conviction in her ideas.
The much beloved Chausson Poeme, performed by Steven Zynszajn, violin, and Steven Graff, piano, is the closest music can come to being impressionistic. Whilst having no stated program, one feels that this is an emotional whirlwind through loss, heartache, regrets, hopes, and despair, and often back again. Mr. Zynszajn’s fast vibrato and focused attention at the instrument added to the ambience, as did Mr. Graff’s sensitive accompaniment. The very high register of some of the passages must make this piece all the more of a challenge for the performer. I would love to hear this just once live with orchestra, as the possibilities for coloration through different timbres is so appealing for both players and listeners!
Following intermission our two pianists joined forces to present three charming Brahms Hungarian Dances. These dances were written under the influence of Hungarian ‘gypsy’ music, displaying strong offbeat accentuations and fiery themes not typically associated with the sober Germanic writing style of Brahms. I enjoyed the wit and playful pianism in this performance, but felt that this may have been thrown together with some haste, as this was not up to the previous level. Nevertheless the joy in music making between the two soloists was palpable.
A single movement of Ravel’s well-known string quartet, featuring the additions of Francisco Salazar on violin, Whitney Lagrange, viola, and Amir Eldan, cello was the highlight of the evening for me. This ensemble was well blended in tone, and played with consistency of ideas. All four players were equally strong at their instrument and also had a well-honed sense of interplay.
There was also a good feel for harmonic texture, a musical ebb and flow. The novelty of this work, much criticized at the time it was composed, is probably lost on audiences today, already familiar with this ‘new’ approach. What we notice, besides the striking harmonies and clever instrumental interactions, is the tight classical form of the writing –Ravel was to become a master orchestrator. Ms. Lagrange, on viola, may have benefited the group dynamic by projecting slightly more, especially in her soloistic moments- as the mid register in quartets most easily becomes ‘swallowed’.
The program concluded with a reworked version of Hindemith’s arrangement of Wagner’s exciting ‘Overture to the Flying Dutchman’. Here the violins exchanged seating for the sake of democracy, and all gave a spirited rendition of this work. Mr. Eldan’s resonant and accomplished cello playing added to the warmth. Not recognizing anything vaguely Hindemith in the style I inquired about this after the performance, to be informed that only the opening statement of that arrangement version was used, otherwise the quartet version was basically a scaled down rewriting of the orchestral score. At any rate, this would have been a novel treat either way, and was a rousing end to a fine concert. The performance was followed by wines, cheeses and snacks, and an opportunity to mingle with talented artists.