Music Review: Russian Legends at Le Salon de Musiques

January 15, 2017 | By Theodore Bell | Category: Classical Music and Opera

Now in its seventh season, Le Salon de Musiques, the vision of François Chouchan, continues to fascinate LA audiences with the “Masters Rediscovered” series. This concert, the fourth of the season on Jan. 8, was all Russian, focusing mostly on the “Moscow School” as defined by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and his musical disciples at the Moscow Conservatory.

The grandeur of the second floor ballroom of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion replaced the usual fifth floor venue. The audience seemed larger than usual, although the intimacy of the performance and immediacy of the sound was not lost. Dr. Kristi Brown-Montesano, chair of the music-history faculty at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, introduced the concert with insightful discourse on the relationships among the composers and the elements in their music.

The program opened with selections from Tchaikovsky’s 16 Songs for Children, Op. 54. Soprano Summer Hassan was wonderful. The rich timbre of her voice and her emotive manner matched well with the minor keys of “Legend,” “Lullaby in a Storm” and “Autumn.” Chouchan was gentle with his touch on the piano, leaving bare the patent affect of Hassan’s beautiful phrases. Her expressive voice resonated throughout the room as her facial expressions mirrored the soul of the music. Such an elegant performance of simple, yet artful songs is the essence of Le Salon de Musiques’ inspiration.

A complement of three songs from Sergei Rachmaninoff — “Oh Never Sing with Me Again” and “The Harvest of Sorrow,” from Six Romances, Opus 4, and “Vocalise” from Opus 34 — shifted away from the sentimental mood of the opening songs. The technical demands on Hassan were extraordinary, and her energy was effusive. She is a rising star. Brava! A moving and enduring performance.

Anton Arensky’s String Quartet No.2 in A minor, Op 35A, was a step forward in time, but literally contained echoes of his mentor, Tchaikovsky. Cellist Jacob Braun was the life of the quartet. The timbre of his 1619 Mariani cello was sweet, immediately evident in his lyric passages of the opening Moderato. In other roles, his dynamic energy both anchored and propelled the ensemble with silky smooth motion. Violinists Jason Issokson and Jessica Guideri were lively, as Braun’s and violist Jonathan Moerschel’s pizzicato accompaniments were perfectly balanced and synchronized, making the famous Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky quite special. The beautiful counterpoint of the Andante weaved an amazing tapestry, until the full-throttled ensemble blasted into an especially zippy Allegro. In such close proximity, the effect was thrilling. We could feel the vibration in vivo and sense the energy of the artists personally.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No.1 in C minor, Op. 8, presented a change in mood, expressly more modern. Guideri and Braun portrayed beautifully lyric melodies and precisely managed abrupt starts and stops and changes in tempo throughout an extended climax. Guideri was extraordinary throughout.

Sergei Taneyev’ s Piano Quintet in G minor, Op 30, brought the strings together again for an intense ending to the event. Vijay Venkatesh and Braun were powerful in their strong lines of the opening Adagio Mesto. Braun’s soulful solos touched me.  Guideri and Issokson kept the Scherzo lightly skipping along, until they morphed into a most beautiful chorale-like Largo. The ensemble was emphatic with Taneyev’s stark unison figures that set up a stunning Allegro Vivace to both the quintet and the evening.

The program itself was a treat to the mind and senses. The format is unique and sophisticated, and the experience is unparalleled. Congratulations to François Chouchan and Le Salon de Musiques — an exceptional contribution to Los Angeles’ arts culture.

Theodore Bell, Culture Spot LA

For information about upcoming concerts, visit. www.lesalondemusiques.com.

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