Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Bach to Weill via Poland… More Sharing at The Interludes

Lukasz Yoder and Roksana Zeinapur.


Lukasz Yoder and Roksana Zeinapur: “The Interludes”, First Lutheran Church, Torrance
David J Brown

This wide-ranging recital in Classical Crossroads' Saturday afternoon "The Interludes" series was shared between the young Polish pianist Lukasz Yoder and the Russian-Azerbaijani soprano Roksana Zeinapur... and raised the sometime conundrum of appropriateness of venue. I wonder if I’m not alone in finding a coolly modern and spacious church like First Lutheran rather incongruous a setting for such hothouse mini-sagas in song—of love ironic, unrequited, or doomed—as they presented in the latter half of the program.

Erik Satie, around the
time he wrote Je te veux.
That aside, this was a well-planned and executed sequence. The bitter-sweet lilt of Erik Satie’s Je te veux (I Want You), probably composed in 1897, immediately demonstrated both the bell-like purity of Ms. Zeinapur’s voice and Mr. Yoder’s discreet exactitude as an accompanist. Then the darker, arguably premonitory, harmonies of Poulenc’s Violon, the fifth in his 1939 song-cycle Fiançailles pour rire (Betrothal for Laughs) FP 101, revealed the power and edge also at her command.

Kurt Weill in 1932.
Three songs by Kurt Weill expanded the emotional, stylistic, and geographical range beyond the fin-de-siècle and pre-War Paris. The low-lying opening of Je ne t'aime pas (I Don't Love You)—a late (1934) echo of Weimar Republic decadence—showed Ms. Zeinapur able to dip easily into the mezzo range, while its intense later stages brought a piercing strength but also a hint of brittleness, the brief spoken asides adding a dimension of vulnerability.

Youkali, adapted from the purely instrumental Tango habanera in Weill’s musical Marie Galante, also written in 1934, added a tang of Spanish/Cuban exoticism, while Speak Low, from the Broadway musical comedy One Touch of Venus (1943), was, indeed, pure Broadway.

So might one imagine the familiar These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You) to be, but in fact its music and lyrics were by two stalwarts of 1930s' English musical theatre, respectively Jack Strachey and Eric Maschwitz. Even in the large impersonal spaces of the church, the duo managed to achieve the confiding, intimate manner the song requires, and then executed a neat 90-degree turn into the rollicking defiance of Ángel Cabral’s La Foule (The Crowd), composed in 1936 but made famous by Edith Piaf over 20 years later.

Edith Piaf in 1948.
Finally, in what was definitely an encore item despite being listed on the program sheet, Piaf came front and center in La Vie en rose, for which she wrote the lyrics to music by Louiguy (Louis Guglielmi). For this Ms. Zeinapur wisely made no attempt to imitate the inimitable, but brought her own power and vibrancy to that signature song.

Mr. Yoder had the stage to himself in the first half of the recital, opening with one of the most expansive—and familiar—of all of Bach’s “48”, the Prelude and Fugue No. 8 in E-flat minor BWV 853, from Book 1 of Das Wohltemperierte Clavier. Opening the lengthy Prelude softly, but thankfully keeping it moving, his sensitivity with its discreet rubato seemed a little undermined by some rhythmic and chording insecurity—unfamiliarity with the instrument and the venue, perhaps? However, allowing barely a pause between it and the Fugue, coupled with his spacious tempo for the latter, ensured that the whole majestic piece came across as a coherent whole.

Then, with probably intentional extreme contrast, he tore into Chopin’s thunderous “Octave” Étude No. 22 in B minor B78, Op. 25 No. 10, as con fuoco as you could wish for, demonstrating a formidable power indeed. Contrasting again was the same composer’s Nocturne No. 5 in F-sharp Major B55, Op. 15 No. 2 where, though Mr. Yoder couldn’t resist some unmarked accelerandi in the central Doppio movimento section, in the closing span particularly his playing was of positively liquid delicacy.

Grazyna Bacewicz.
For his final item(s), he moved from early 19th century Poland to the same country in its post-war Soviet domination. The music of Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) is having something of a moment with, as I write, a two-day festival happening in San Francisco under the auspices of the ever-enterprising Bard College, and an ongoing flood of CD releases including multiple recordings of her many violin works, not least her seven (count ‘em!) violin concertos.

The first movement of her Piano Sonata No. 2 (1953) is dense and gritty, and characterized by extreme contrasts of texture and dynamic. Mr. Yoder gave full measure both to its grinding intensity and sudden moments of withdrawal and stasis. Indeed, my sole reservation was that only this introductory Maestoso-Allegro was programmed. I’m not a fan of extracting single movements from multi-movement works that composers clearly intend to be heard as a whole, and in this instance that view was born out by the choice of encore.

In place of the anticipated Chopin Mazurka, instead Mr. Yoder played this same Bacewicz Piano Sonata No. 2’s even more torrential Toccata finale, and frankly, I would have preferred one or two fewer songs if it had made room for him to play the whole work: the somber processional of its central Largo movement crucially separates, contrasts with, and expands the context for the outer movements. Maybe another time…?


“The Interludes”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 3.00pm, Saturday, October 19, 2019.
Images: Lukasz Yoder: Artist website; Roksana Zeinapur: Artist website; Satie: Wikimedia Commons; Weill: Wikimedia Commons; Edith Piaf: Britannica; Bacewicz: National Digital Archives of Poland.

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