Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Vivid, Poignant Rarities and Popular Favorites From Violist Dana Zemtsov and Pianist Anna Fedorova

Violist Dana Zemtsov and pianist Anna Fedorova each grew up as first-generation immigrants in France, so their album Silhouettes – streaming at Spotify – reflects a lot of personal influences and experiences. Their shared affinity for the material here, interpolating short pieces by Debussy among an eclectic mix of more expansive duo works, translates viscerally to the listener.

They risk making the rest of the record anticlimactic with their opening number, Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata. In 1919, the pioneering orchestral violist and composer submitted it to a composition contest, pseudonymously, under a man’s name. She finished second (to a similarly brilliant piece by Ernest Bloch) and earned a lot of press when her identity was revealed. It would become her most successful work in a vastly underrated career.

The duo launch into it with an opulent fierceness that rises and falls, with echoes of of early Bartok and Ravel: their spacious, comfortably starry approach to the first movement’s conclusion is a quietly mighty payoff. They bring a conspiratorial, marionettesque energy to the second movement. Zemtsov’s poignant resonance over Fedorova’s starry glimmer and whisper is just as impactful in the final one.

Dutch composer Arne Werkman’s 2007 Suite for viola and piano has some jaunty boogie-woogie cached in the acidically dancing lines of the opening movement, an occasionally creepy, carnivalesque sensibliity that the duo seize on in the second, and allusions to a moody bolero in the third. They bring the phantasmagoria to its logical conclusion in the Paganini-inspired coda.

Darius Milhaud’s Viola Sonata No. 1 begins with an uneasy stroll and cleverly intertwined counterpoint, Zemtsov and Fedorova reveling in the coy leaps and bounds of the second. The wistfully Romantic waltz of a third movement comes as a surprise, leaving the two musicians to tie things up with a ragtime-inflected wink and a grin in the finale.

A pensive ballad without words contrasts with bracing, Romany-inflected flair and nocturnal suspense throughout the swells and ebbs of George Enescu’s Concert Piece for Viola and Piano. The Debussy pieces begin with La plus que lente, a steady, rather tongue-in-cheek, cynically brooding take on early 20th century slow waltz cliches. The version of Clair de Lune here is rather muted and on the slow side: this nightscape has plenty of clouds. The final piece is the brief, lyrical student work Beau Soir.

December 17, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Transcendence and Revelations from Women Composers at Juilliard

Dovetailing with the New York Philharmonic’s Project 19 celebration of women composers and women achieving the right to vote in this country, the Juilliard School’s current Focus 2020 series features unprecedented, all-female programming this week. The big basement theatre there was about three-quarters full last night. If brilliant, obscure repertoire is your thing, or if you just like free classical concerts, you ought to be able to get in if you show up by about 7:15. Or you can pick up tickets at the box office during the day. The show tonight, Jan 28 starts at 7:30 PM with mostly piano-centric music by Vivian Fine, Florence Price, Young-ja Lee, Priaulx Rainier and Mary Lou Williams.

Last night’s performance was a revelation. It’s shameful that such sublime and powerful material has been largely ignored for so long, and it was clear from the program notes that a lot of sleuthing was required simply to track down the scores for much of it. Few of these women were fortunate enough to land a composer-in-residence gig, as Liu Zhuang maintained for two decades in her native China. Yet her own publisher was unable to provide the sheet music for her 1999 trio Wind Through Pines. A friend of Juilliard’s Joel Sachs had to be enlisted to supply a copy from his local library.

Rebecca Clarke broke the gender barrier as a hardworking symphony violist, yet was reduced to working as a nanny at one point. And Verdina Shlonsky, an early Israeli composer, had very few performances during her lifetime, dying broke and forgotten in 1990.

The concert was a rollercoaster ride, beginning and ending very darkly. Clarke’s 1941 Dumka, played with inspired, animated counterpoint by violinist Yaegy Park, violist Serena Hsu and pianist Jiahao Han, was a bitterly anthemic, Balkan-tinged theme and variations punctuated by jagged pointillisms and a forlornly lyrical viola solo.

Irish-English composer Elizabeth Maconchy’s 1938 String Quartet No. 3 was a broodingly and often grimly apt choice of concluding number. Cellist Erica Ogihara‘s deep pitchblende drive contrasted with the elegant exchanges between violinists Jeongah Choi and Haokun Liang and violist Leah Glick. Its uninterrupted variations foreshaded what Shostakovich would be doing twenty years later, all the way through to a macabre, slow gallop and flicker of a coda.

The night’s most breaktaking display of interpretive skill was pianist Isabella Ma’s vastly dynamic, sometimes muted and tender, sometimes explosive take of Shlonsky’s 1949 suite Pages From the Diary. The obvious precursor is Pictures at an Exhibition, coyly and fleetingly referenced toward the end. Icy belltones gave way to a marionettish strut that eventually resurfaced as fullscale phantasmagoria, only to flutter away gracefully at the conclusion.

Ruth Schonthal’s 1979 duo Love Letters, played by clarinetist Ashbur Jin and cellist Elisabeth Chang, was a matter-of-fact exchange that began somewhat warily and warmed to a casual stroll, more of a display of camaraderie than red-hot passion. Violist Sergio Munoz Leiva gamely tackled the knotty demands for extended technique throughout the short, sharp phrasing of Barbara Pentland’s solo Variations for Viola. And the trio of pianist Qu Xi, cellist Raphael Boden and flutist Audrey Emata emulated the alternately airy and otherworldly plucked, Asian-tinged pastoral phrasing of the Zhuang piece.

This week’s programming concludes with a big blowout at Alice Tully Hall this Friday, Jan 31 at 7:30 PM featuring works by Betsy Jolas, Grażyna Bacewicz, Ethel Smyth, Thea Musgrave and Sofia Gubaidulina with Raphael Vogl at the organ along with the Juilliard ensemble. Free tickets are currently available at the box office there.

January 28, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment