Review by Barry Plaxen
The second half of the 2015 Shandelee Music Festival began with a trip to “Mostly France” as flutist Adrienn Kantor and pianist Erika Allen performed a short, too short, much too short work, “Pour Ivoquer Pan, dieu du vent d’ete” by Debussy. As the program notes say, it is “a sumptuous impressionistic evocation”. I would add the word masterpiece to that definition. I wanted more, much more.
We were then introduced to the music of composer, conductor and flutist Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) with his “Fantasie”, very idiomatic for the flute with a strong French impressionism in its harmony and melody. A happy addition to the flute repertoire and, as of August 20, 2015, to my ken of French composers.
Next was Poulenc’s (and a favorite of mine) “Sonata for Flute and Piano”, arguably the most popular of the genre. And then an adaptation for flute of Saint–Saëns’ brilliant violin opus, “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso”. A fitting work for the duo, as Allen and, especially, Kantor are very adept at playing fast and furious, up and down the ivory keys and up and down the silver metal keys. What fun!
Then on to Russia for Prokofiev’s “Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 94”, containing his palette of harmony, tone and color, and modernity BUT with classical structures, giving the flute some beautiful and virtuostic passages.
To my knowledge, with the exception of Borodin’s “String Quartet # 2”, there are no “popular” quartets in the standard Romantic era repertoire composed by Russians. Other western countries have their romantic “national” sound, and Russian Romantic music is filled with Russian sounds, but not string quartets, at least not on a “successful” basis. Borodin’s 2nd could be called “the Russian stranger in the paradise-like world of Romantic string quartets”.
(Post-romantic composer Miaskovsky wrote 13 quartets, none of which are in the standard repertoire and Shostakovich’s music – he wrote 15 string quartets – is less Russian than it is “Shostakovich-ian”.)
During the classical era Haydn (and others) composed some string quartets for 2 violins, viola and double bass, possibly because they prized the unique rhythmic punctuation, range and resonance of that instrument. Borodin and others used the usual formula, 2 violins, viola and cello. And there-in lies their error.
Since August 22, 2015, thanks to “Dimitri Berlinsky and Friends,” I have known why there are no “Russian” string quartets in the standard repertoire. It took Anton Arensky (1861-1906) to discover the secret of how to imbue a string quartet with a RUSSIAN feeling, expression, and SOUND! How? With 1 violin, a viola and 2 cellos!
Thanks to that second cello, Arensky’s “Quartet # 2, Op. 35 in A Minor” has a rich and original sound. Not only is it original in that sense, but he imbued it with original music, his own characteristic rhythmic, lyrical and melodic style that sounds like no one else’s. Velvety, mellow, robust, and dark. A great work, beautifully performed by violinist Berliner, Richard Young, viola; Andrey Tchekmazov and Santiago Cañón-Valencia, cellos. A new favorite!
After intermission Tchekmazov was “replaced” by pianist Elena Baksht for Brahms’ “Piano Quartet #1 in G Minor, Op. 25”. No surprises in the first three movements containing Brahms’ usual depth, profundity, and beauty in his own musical language. The last movement, “Rondo alla Zingarese:Presto” has more than just a Zingarese (“Gypsy”) style. It is most exciting in its speed and rhythmic qualities and afforded Ms. Baksht with a great opportunity for pianistic virtuosity. Thrilling! Rousing the audience members to their feet!
Shandelee’s Artistic Director Lana Ivanov has found another remarkable ensemble (an understatement) for these world class concerts, the Aeolus Quartet: one “single spirit”, says the program notes, “uniting four individual forces,” i.e. the four winds that the Greek god Aeolus governed: Nicholas Tavani, violin; Rachel Shapiro, violin; Gregory Luce, viola and Alan Richardson, cello. These four exuberant youthful performers, who have won scores (no pun intended) of awards, offered a glorious concert from start to finish, every moment a shining example of great music-making with their total involvement in the music and inspired phrasing.
It began with Haydn’s “String Quartet in D Major, Op. 71, No. 2 (# 55)”, one of Papa Haydn’s innovative quartets, in that it is full of modulations, changing keys for a moment, or for a phrase or three, along with being more romantic and profound than earlier works.
Then came Bartok’s “String Quartet # 2”, with its brilliant and emotional second movement of constant, persistent, forward-moving motion, affording us to become immersed with/in the intense non-stop driving energy and be mesmerized by the crisp, clear, clean and precise playing of it.
Last on the program was Beethoven’s “String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130 (# `13). As with the Haydn and Bartok works, it was performed with an incredible range of dynamics, making it a very, very moving experience.
The meticulous players were also a joy to watch, as one could easily see their total involvement and their “animated oneness“, seemingly expressed with delight, elation and glee. A great end to a great season of concerts in the Sunset Pavilion. Thanks to everyone involved.
On October 4, Shandelee Music Festival partners with Bethel Woods to bring us The Princeton Nassoons for an afternoon of a capella singing. Visit www.shandelee.org for more information.