Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Birthday to Franz Schubert!

by Anne French

Franz Schubert was born on January 31, 1797, and lived to be only 31 years old. Not many birthdays to celebrate. Yet in those few years he wrote some 600 lieder, nine symphonies (including the famous "Unfinished Symphony"), great liturgical music, operas, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music. We celebrate his birthday today by sharing one of his many gifts to us: the serenely beautiful Impromptu in G Flat Major, performed by Vladimir Horowitz.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Eclipse Quartet and Its Contemporary Cosmos

Review by Rodney Punt

Less flamboyant than the Kronos and more feline than the Arditti, the Eclipse Quartet is L.A.’s answer to both in twentieth-century and present-day music. Its four members -- violinists Sara Parkins and Sarah Thornblade, violist Alma Lisa Fernandez, and cellist Maggie Parkins -- have teamed in this ensemble for eight years, but still have combusting fires in their bellies, at least by the evidence of recent performances.

I reviewed their impressive concert of Annie Gosfield’s industrial-inspired music at the West Adams Café-Club Fais Do-Do last fall. The Eclipse and their audiences, by the way, favor such gritty, out-of-the-way venues. Two more housed their recent outings.

The Royal T, a retail site and restaurant on Culver City’s artistically alive Washington Boulevard, was the acoustically cozy setting in mid-January for a single long work by Morton Feldman, with the Eclipse joined by pianist Vicky Ray. Morton, a musical Abstract Expressionist, was a product of the heady New York arts scene of the 1950’s. One of his last works, the Piano and String Quartet of 1985, is a grand summation of what he had first revered in Anton Webern’s highly distilled miniatures, grown over the years into his own vast landscapes. As Feldman wrote: “Up to one hour you think about form, but after an hour and a half it’s scale.”

The listener tries to “figure out” the work in its first hour. Ever-varying but singularly lonely piano arpeggios thrust upward from a pillow of harmonically morphing strings. Slowly, subtly, an hour into the work, a rocking cosmic-cradle rhythm is introduced in the strings. At this point the listener begins to let go of his will and give up on analysis. Lovely motivic moments enter and depart from the cello and her string siblings. The listener’s subconscious has been kidnapped beyond cognitive resistance, and almost physical endurance. The work’s lapidary complexly is Bachian and yet also minimalist in its glacial pacing, suggesting the still, quiet desolation of a Rothko painting.

The Eclipse Quartet and pianist Vicky Ray, on a psychedelically painted and visually jarring piano, were in full control of this carefully paced, well articulated performance, even as their audience eventually surrendered any conscious control on how to navigate their receptivity along the way.

Moving north for a concert a dozen days later, the Eclipse inhabited a bright acoustic at Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts in a program of four challenging works. Premiered was a piece by Stephen Cohn, along with a modern classic by John Cage (Morton Feldman’s lifelong friend and musical soul-mate) and some recent works by Meredith Monk and Lois Vierk.

Cohn’s Winter Soul (2010) is a precision-cut jewel of twelve minutes duration, based on a four-note opening motif and two related themes. It unfolds in crisp modern sonorities by means of playful but rigorous devices, in the manner of baroque treatment. Variations, transformations and stacked chains of melodies, modulated and inverted in their entrances, elaborate the musical argument. Cross rhythms and tone clusters tickle the senses while a four-note atonal canon adds a wistful element. Despite the formal treatment, the work’s emotional climate struck me as not so much about a winter’s melancholy as a frisky solstice jog that stimulates the mind and warms the heart. It deserves a concert life; hopefully the Eclipse will keep it in their standard repertoire (assuming that anything could become standard for these relentless musical explorers.)

Monk’s Stringsongs (2005) explores technical devices in its four engaging movements: double-stopping for rotational “Cliff Lights”, non-sequitur solos in “Tendrils”, a close-harmony session for “Obsidian Chorale”, and wispy-scratches for “Phantom Strings.” Written for the Kronos Quartet, it found a congenial home-away-from-home in the Eclipse’s focused performance.

A forerunner of the “still” music later favored by the minimalists is Cage’s austere String Quartet in Four Sections (1950). Its four seasonal movements express not so much directionality as state of mind. “Quietly Flowing Along – Summer” rests in its languid stupor, points of light piercing as through occasional heavenly-sky portals in a leafy tree. “Slowly Rocking – Autumn” is a plaintive folk lament tinged by sharp-edged cuts. “Nearly Stationary – Winter” is a lonely visage of bleakness in high-registered, continuously dissonant, softly spoken chords. “Quodlibet – Spring” takes us full circle in the annual cycle to a short and sweet announcement of renewing life.

Finally, Vierk’s River Beneath the River (1993) paints its deep aqua flows with tremolos and glissandos, eventually working its way into a kind of harvest square dance with cello drones and gaily flaying fiddles.

With this affirmation, the program’s curious nocturnal trip concluded. The eclipse had passed, but we look forward to the Eclipse returning again, and soon.


Who: Eclipse Quartet -- Sara Parkins, violin; Sarah Thornblade, violin; Alma Lisa Fernandez, viola; Maggie Parkins, cello (with Vicki Ray, piano, January 13 only)

What: Piano and String Quartet by Morton Feldman (1985)
When: January 13, 2011
Where: Royal T, 8910 Washington Blvd, Culver City

What: Eclipse Quartet
When: January 25, 2011
Where: Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena

Above photo courtesy of Eclipse Quartet
Rodney Punt can be contacted at [email protected]

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Friday Phonograph

A Real Dutch Treat!
Unico Willem van Wassenaer's "Armonici" Concerto

by Anne French

The Concerti Armonici, written somewhere between 1725 and 1740, went through quite a process of parental misidentification before their proper composer was found. They were first published by an Italian violinist, to whom they were also attributed. (Wrong.) Some years later a Polish composer asserted that they were written by famed composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. (Also wrong.) But since they were stylistically of the Roman Baroque fashion, similar to Italian composer Locatelli, it must be that he wrote them, right? Wrong. Finally in 1979-1980 the original manuscripts were found, and the concerti were rightly declared to be the work of Unico Willem van Wassenaer, a Dutch nobleman who hadn't wanted them published in his own name for some reason. So it took over two hundred years to prove their authorship and settle the score forever... so to speak. I've chosen the fifth of these concerti, performed here by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra directed by Ton Koopman. Enjoy, and happy weekend to all!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Schubert's Winterreise from Le Salon de Musiques

Review by Rodney Punt

When a young singer sets out to make his reputation in Lieder (German for art songs), he must carefully consider how he will introduce himself. He may choose appealing, often familiar works that sound more difficult than they are to avoid pushing the limits of his still forming technique and interpretive abilities. Alternately, he may choose repertoire that is new or out of the ordinary to focus the audience’s attention on the novelty of the songs themselves.

Baritone Christopher Herbert chose a third option. He threw down and picked up his own gauntlet, taking on the summit of the art of Lieder, Franz Schubert’s monumental Winterreise, for his local debut. Here is a work widely known for its vocally exposed, 75-minute endurance-run in twenty-four songs. Scrutinized by attentive audiences, it presents daunting technical and interpretive challenges even for veteran singers. Maybe especially for veteran singers.

You have to admire, then, the ambition of Herbert’s first ever outing with Winterreise, performed with pianist François Chouchan at last Sunday’s Le Salon de Musiques at the Chandler's fifth floor room. While their version is far from fully formulated, it could be a first important step for them on that long winter’s journey to a full realization of the work’s potential.

The sheer discipline of memorizing the words and music of Winterreise over the relatively short period of time Herbert apparently had to prepare it is commendable, not to mention his courage in facing down first performance anxieties. (He mentioned after the work's completion fearing the looming high F# in “Die Krähe.” Happily, he hit the note just fine.)

Courage itself does not, however, negate the questionable wisdom of taking on a public performance of the equivalent of an actor’s King Lear role so early in his acquaintance with the work.

Make no mistake. Herbert’s career will likely be a memorable one. He has matinee-idol good looks and an attractive lyric voice of emerging shadings that, with careful cultivation, could put him on track for solid success in the song repertoire.

Herbert is about thirty years old. At that age a baseball player is already pacing himself to avoid strain and injury. A composer may have already achieved the peak of his powers, as had Franz Schubert who composed this work at the age of thirty. But a singer at thirty, particularly a male and a baritone, has barely taken off his training wheels.

Ian Bostridge was singing Winterreise at about this age, but his London performances had come after years of study, and his high tenor voice had developed early. Fischer-Dieskau also performed it young, but again after years of study.

While this first time run-through for Herbert and Chouchan was respectable, it was also equally far from deeply satisfying. Perhaps it is their trial run for a performance with ballet scheduled for the 29th of this month in Santa Monica. There are some steps between now and then which they could consider in their approach to the work.

Overall tempos were a bit too rapid, even for the general trend in today’s Winterreise performances to move along more than their ancestors. The aforementioned “Die Krähe”, for example, should depict a crow floating above the protagonist’s head, but here it was more like a sprinter running alongside him.

On a technical level, Herbert would do well to sustain more legato phrasing on his lines. His phrasing sometimes yielded to choppiness. It was not clear also if the various colorations of his voice were used for expressive purposes or simply were the only ones available for the register he was singing in; low notes were invariably dark, high notes intended as soft were too often breathy.

As for Chouchan, a more distinct articulation in his pianism, particularly in the rapid passages, would come closer to a true Schubertian style. More sensitivity to phrasing to compliment textual moments will improve the subtlety of his performance. The art of piano collaboration is not the same as instrumental collaboration; the pianist must execute downbeats, for instance, infinitesimally behind his singer to allow the singer’s consonants to be heard. Executed at the same time, as in this outing, the percussive piano smothers a singer’s delicate consonants and compromises the audience’s ability to hear the words.

With these technical aspects mastered, the singer and his pianist are ready for the even more challenging task of interpretation. This cannot happen in two weeks; it is a long, laborious process. Performers who essay Winterreise will be acutely aware of the legacy left from their predecessors in recordings, or performances still in collective public memory.

Of the two-dozen or more performances I have heard live, what is memorable in the best of them is not so much dazzling vocalism as an interpretive point of view. These performances are informed by individual personality and emotional investment, sometimes even a conceptual framework. They will be guided by a principle important to all great artists, trusting one's instincts to be true to both the work performed and oneself.

To give an idea of the potential, here are a few twitter-ready characterizations of performances I have attended that stand out: the iconic, subtly nuanced 1969 one of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in Brussels, the affectingly ponderous 1984 version from Jon Vickers with Peter Schaff at the Chandler, the poignant 1995 one in the original high-keys by tenor Peter Schreier and Alexei Lubimov at the Chandler, the super suave 1997 one from Thomas Hampson and Wolfram Rieger at the Chandler, the intensely internalized 2004 one of Matthias Goerne with Alfred Brendel at Disney Hall, the destruction-derby 2005 staged version of Erik Nelson-Werner and Michelle Schumann at the Long Beach Opera, the tough-guy 2008 version from Sam McElroy and Armen Guzelimian at an Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, and, most recently, in March 2010, the psychotically unhinged one of Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

One may have their preferences from the above. One may not even like some of these performances. But one must acknowledge that each bore the stamp of individual investment and integrity. Each had its own distinct personality, its own raison d’être, and each was the result of the artists' long association with the work. Absent a point of view and substantial investment by performers in Winterreise, there is little justification for taking on the rigors of preparing such a monster work.

One aspect of the program did meet high standards of professionalism. An articulate, informed UC Riverside Professor Byron Adams introduced it. He noted that Wilhelm Müller’s poems depicted an “existential crisis” for the story’s protagonist. He reminded the audience that in the early nineteenth century, the urban noises of today simply did not exist. Silence was truly silence. In such atmosphere, one could hear one’s own heartbeat, the sound of feet tramping on snow, and the bark of dogs in a lonely city. A horse's gallop and the post-horn announcements of arriving mail, anachronistic today, would have been commonplace sounds in this period. Adams also led a discussion with the audience after the concert that touched upon symbolism in the poems, as in the “three suns” of the penultimate “Die Nebensonnen.”

Le Salon de Musiques has offered two programs in a row in which its performers are essaying, singly or collectively, first time public performances of well-known classics. Yet it is important for the credibility of any chamber music series to project an image not of recent acquaintance but mastery. If that is to be the ambition of this series, it is one that should be pursued vigorously.

Above Photo: Carole Sternicha
Rodney Punt can be reached at [email protected]

Sunday, January 16, 2011

PASSION, RAGE, REVENGE - Cherubini’s Medea

Long Beach Opera to Launch New Season

Preview by Rodney Punt

The year was 1797. A great nation had long been politically divided, its people betrayed by a glorious history to which they contributed nearly all the pain but participated in none of the gain. The revolution of nine years before had launched a creative destruction that was still underway.

Much of the privileged leadership of the Ancien Régime had lost their heads to the guillotine, a device invented to “mercifully” eliminate an entire class of people. Napoleon’s coup d'état in France was yet two years away, and the bloody populism that had set the course for his ascendency still threatened chaos.

The 1797 premiere of Médée (Medea) at the Parisian Théâtre Feydeau had an eerie resonance with the political climate outside its walls. The choice of subject matter, a mother taking revenge on her husband’s infidelity by murdering their children and his fiancé, would not have been a coincidence. The opera’s composer, a naturalized Frenchman, could see - with the objectivity of a foreigner - his adopted nation in the throes of self-destruction. His name was Luigi Cherubini.

Luigi who?

Born in Florence, the Italian cradle of the European Renaissance, Luigi Cherubini had moved to France just over a decade before, and took to calling himself “Louis.” The name change was more than an affectation; Louis was soon a leading exponent of the French school of music and widely admired throughout Europe. (Beethoven learned much from him while composing his own Fidelio). But of late, his muted royalist leanings were sublimated in works that spoke to a rougher generation of Frenchmen. This emerging power class, still on edge and inclined to extract merciless revenge, was hell-bent on reordering all the country’s institutions to serve the people and tamp down any lingering notions of aristocratic revival.

Cherubini could hardly have chosen more graphic models than the Euripides and Corneille treatments of the Medea myth. They illustrated all too well the complicated emotions of a mother’s protective love in a vain struggle against her all-enveloping hatred. The composer's musical setting would add even more dramatic urgency to the story.

The use of spoken dialogue linking this powerful work’s musical numbers categorized it, in the peculiar conventions of the time, as an “opéra-comique.” It is not likely that phrase will come to mind to those who attend the Long Beach Opera’s season opener (Jan. 29-Feb. 6), a US stage premiere of the original version of Medea in a site-specific setting at the EXPO Furniture Warehouse in north Long Beach.

In keeping with its long-standing tradition, the LBO’s production will be sung and spoken in English. Heading the cast are soprano Suzan Hanson in the title role and tenor Ryan MacPherson as Jason. It is designed, stage-directed, and conducted by the LBO's Artistic & General Director, Andreas Mitisek.

If this work is known at all to American audiences, it is likely in the Italian language version with its spoken dialogue replaced by sung recitatives. Audiences of a certain age may remember that version as a powerful vehicle for soprano Maria Callas, several excerpts of which are on YouTube.

Does a climate of threatening populism sound anything like what’s happening in the United States today? It may not be rational or deserved, but there are those in our country who speak in the same apocalyptic tones – and tragically act in the same cataclysmic terms - as France’s citoyens at the end of the eighteenth century.

Given the LBO’s history of contemporizing historical operas, and with this production characterized as “triple murders in a warehouse” we can expect it to set the pace for what will be the company’s most ambitious season ever, one that will strike sharp chords with contemporary America.

Tickets for Medea are limited and an additional performance has been added. If you want my advice, get on the phone or computer NOW, and while you are at it, order the entire promising season of four operas, dubbed "Boundless-Timeless-Ruthless."


WHAT: US Stage Premiere of Medea based on the original 1797 version by Luigi Cherubini, libretto by François Benoît Hoffmann/Nicolas Étienne Framéry. Sung & Spoken in English with English supertitles

WHEN: Saturday, January 29, 2011, 7:30 PM (very limited seating available) Saturday, February 5, 2011, 2:00 PM (added performance) Sunday, February 6, 2011, 2:00 PM (limited seating availability)

WHERE: EXPO Building, 4321 Atlantic Ave, Long Beach, CA 90807

TICKETS: $25-$110. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling the LBO Box Office at 562-432-5934. Group and Student Group discounts are available thru the Box Office only.

NOTE: First-time subscribers receive a 50% discount on season tickets.

Above photo by Keith Ian Polakoff
Rodney Punt can be reached at [email protected]

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Friday Phonograph

A Really Smooth Landi: Music of Stefano Landi Performed
by L'Arpeggiata Ensemble and Marco Beasley

by Anne French

Stefano Landi (1587-1630) is an Italian composer of the early Baroque Roman School of whom I knew nothing. L'Arpeggiata is a wonderfully unique ensemble I had never heard, nor had I heard of singer Marco Beasley. So it was a happy landing indeed when my YouTube surfboard stopped at this video of Landi's Passacaglia della Vita, a piece that was totally new to me and that immediately captivated me. I hope you enjoy discoveries as much as I do and that at least some of this Friday's Phonograph is new to you too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Lost Eggleston Review

Doug Harvey was unceremoniously axed from the LA Weekly last month after thirteen years of diligent and honorable service. The bitter editor also spiked Harvey's last column, a review of the William Eggleston show at LACMA, which closes this weekend, and he even took the unusual measure of running another review of the show in its place--by a music editor.

Not to worry, though--here is The Lost Eggleston Review, at Harvey's new blog. Enjoy, and watch for more Doug!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Quest for Meaning in Holiday Music

(And Finding It in The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles)

Review and Commentary by Rodney Punt

Reflecting on the holiday season just passed, I am impressed at how often Christmas music induces good feelings but rarely serious thoughts. This year, for social and economic reasons, good feelings were at a premium. The most comfortable of annual seasons seemed anything but that for far too many Americans. Three holiday programs in December brought home long-simmering discords in our traditions. I was struck, even more than in previous years, with cognitive dissonances between the beguiling melodies and harmonies of Christmas music and the incongruous words they wrap themselves around.

The first program was that most traditional of holiday offerings, G. F. Handel’s Messiah, a two-and-a-half hour E-ticket of musical genius and dramatic puzzlement, presented by a Los Angeles Master Chorale in fine form. I reviewed it earlier; what interests now is the work’s condensation of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament gospel. You may remember the nice parts: promises of easy yokes, light burthens and peace on earth.

Part I of the libretto begins at a time of endless warfare, with angels announcing the birth of a Messiah who will purify society and govern with justice and wisdom. No sooner has the birth taken place than Part II finds the adult Messiah reviled by his people, weighed down by sorrows, and executed without so much as a fare-thee-well. Part III, authored mostly by the Apostle Paul who never knew Jesus of Nazareth, sidesteps the Angelic promise of peace on earth and instead gives the faithful an IOU for a heavenly reward. What angels proclaim, men who establish religions can apparently take away. So much for Messiah as coherent message.

The next production was Amahl and the Night Visitors by Intimate Opera of Pasadena, also reviewed earlier. In that opera, three ostentatiously decked out Magi (aka Wise Men), seeking overnight housing, visit the lame boy Amahl and his mother at their humble home near Bethlehem. Composer-librettist Gian Carlo Menotti has the two and their impoverished neighbors providing the Magi food, shelter, and entertainment. It is fitting and proper, of course, that the poor should provide for the rich.

Not having been offered payment, Amahl’s mother is caught stealing some of the Magi’s gold. When she is told the gold is destined for the Holy Child, she readily gives it back for the savior-to-be. Amahl offers as gift his crutch. Immediately thereafter a supernatural force cures him of his infirmity. From this warm-hearted story, we take as example that the needs of the poor and sick are best addressed not by man but by heavenly intervention. Applied as policy today, we can forget healthcare coverage and those obnoxious death panels; the guy upstairs provides for those who have not.

I might have entered the month of January spitting Ebenezer Scrooge's humbugs were it not for the annual holiday matinee concert of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) on December 19. Instead of squishy religious bromides, I found light-hearted singing and a lot of self-deprecating humor, but also some surprisingly profound moments that renewed my faith in the ability of American society - however fitfully and imperfectly - to advance and do right by its people, even if through the serpentine means of our sclerotic political system.

Take the case of gays and lesbians, who encountered horrendous issues last year. Many Americans, proclaiming themselves true Christians and citing scripture, rejected the gay community as undeserving of the equal rights of other citizens. Intransigent adult attitudes were often mimicked by children on schoolyards, leading to the taunting of young gays and lesbians and an unprecedented rise in their suicides.

The Gay Men’s Chorus had not spent the year waiting for heavenly interventions to confront this issue. In October they produced an anti-bullying video message on YouTube using Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” anthem for the It Gets Better project. Targeting at-risk youth, it immediately became one of the most popular on-line entries of that effort.

Two months later, raining cats and dogs, Glendale’s Alex Theatre filled to capacity on a Sunday afternoon for a program titled COMFORT & JOY and presented by the same Gay Men's Chorus. Self-pity strictly forbidden even in this difficult era, the Chorus lit into the holiday extravaganza with seemingly no higher an aspiration than to celebrate a Festivus-like Yuletide - hardly a set-up for the deeply moving experience that was to follow.

There had been a special and unintended context to the light-hearted program; just the day before, the United States Congress finally repealed the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that had prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military in defense of their country. That Congressional action would resonate in the program.

Outgoing GMCLA Executive Director Hywel Sims recognized the importance of a day to be celebrated with special intensity. He asked all military service members and veterans in the predominantly gay and lesbian audience to stand. As a military veteran and the father of another veteran who served recently, I stood in the company of those gay and lesbian veterans who, perhaps at this very moment, could finally and properly reveal themselves and receive their justified appreciation. I am not ashamed to admit of flooding with tears at the honor.

Guest conductor Tim Seelig and his 150 or so choristers, decked out in holiday costumes and colors, set the pace with some of the best arrangements of holiday music’s usual suspects I have encountered. Numbers like “Sleigh Ride”, “A Christmas Carol”, “Mary Sat A-Rockin’”, and an especially ethereal “Silver Bells” arrangement highlighted the group’s phenomenal articulation and blend. Mark Chung choreographed the singers throughout in graceful Busby Berkeley-esque hand and body movements.

Encoring previous appearances, the acrobatic Jingle Elves offered a jungle gym of rolls, leaps, and folds in “Mr. Santa”, “Elves’ Broadway Christmas” and the hilarious “Boogie Woogie Hanukkah”, as cleverly choreographed by Billy Rugh. The Foamettes puppeteers did their magic in Phil Hettema’s black-lit, Disneyesque dream world, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Punctuating the program were occasional spiritual numbers such as Anton Bruckner's soulful “Ave Maria”, a medley of three pieces on the theme of “Joy”, and the concluding candle-lit interweaving of “Peace, Peace, Peace” and “Silent Night.”

Country singer LeAnn Rimes, who has so successfully inherited the Patsy Cline/Brenda Lee tradition, was the special guest artist, appearing in the first half of the program in two numbers, Mariah Carey’s “All I want For Christmas Is You” and the super-peppy “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Her sexy Santa dress in the first half of the program added special electricity to the bubbly renditions. Rimes' deep voice is gorgeous and her natural manner and delivery, not to mention her stunning musicianship, were special joys in the afternoon.

If you check out references to recent Rimes comings and goings on the internet, you will see occasional snarky remarks about her appearing in scanty clothes like bikinis and even this particular Santa suit. (Horrors! A good-looking woman in a bikini. What is this country coming to?) Pay no attention to the pedantic moralists. This woman has soul, and you will soon find out why.

For at least one attendee, the matinee's most touching moment came near the end of the program with Rimes returning in evening dress to sing Bette Midler’s “The Rose” in tandem with the Chorus’ rendition of the old chorale “Lo How A Rose E’re Blooming.” Rimes choked up as she dedicated the song to the young gays and lesbians who had lost their lives that year. She brought and left on stage a single long-stemmed red rose. I will close this commentary with a video of the afternoon’s performance, in profound gratitude for an ensemble and a special singing artist who brought more meaning to the season with this predominantly secular performance than any religious-themed program I was to attend.


Above photos courtesy of The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles
Rodney Punt can be reached at [email protected]

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Friday Phonograph

Four Hands, Two Pianos, And a Lot of Electricity

by Anne French

One piano at a time is usually quite enough for me. But when I heard Russian pianist Polina Leschenko, paired with Cuban virtuoso Mauricio Vallina, I was really mesmerized by the chemistry and artistry they exude as they play Anton Arensky's (1861-1906) Suite no. 1 (Romance and Valse) for two pianos, op. 15. Arensky's works all reveal singing melodic lines and compositional fluency, as well as an affinity for unusual rhythmic patterns. But in order to execute these elements and communicate the deeper sentiments involved, there must be an extraordinary spiritual connection between the artists. That is what struck me in this performance. What a lovely way to begin the first full weekend of the New Year.