Norfolk Chamber Consort: Bon appétit!
Chandler Hall, February 8, 2016
Review by M.D. Ridge
On February 8th, the Norfolk Chamber Consort presented a tasty program appropriately entitled Bon appétit, all of whose selections had something to do with delicious food and drink. Consort co-director Andrey Kasparov gave an entertaining pre-concert introduction to the various composers and their works, beginning with the influential—and quite eccentric—Erik Satie. His Gymnopédies are probably the most familiar to audiences, but (full disclosure) I first heard his Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear on WHRO. It was his first composition for piano duet, strikingly performed this night by the Invencia Piano Duo of Kasparov and co-director Oksana Lutsyshin.
Even its title is a joke—there are not three pieces but seven, with funny titles:
Manière de commencement (Beginning) was haunting, with a surprise ending. The second, called Prolongation du même (More of the Same), was . . . different, with marching, declarative chords.
In Piece 1, the melody goes around oddly, punctuated by crossing chords. Piece 2 was light, bright and quick, with a lyrical, song-like middle. Piece 3, labeled Brutal, was exactly that: insolent and insistent. The sixth piece was En plus (What’s More), that takes the mind out of its rut and goes different places with it. The last movement is inelegantly labeled Rehash (Redite); it begins gently and ends pianissimo.
One doesn’t often hear recipes put to music, even though Rossini said he could put a laundry list to music. (But he never did.) The remarkable Leonard Bernstein set four 19th-century French recipes to music for piano and the voice of Jennie Tourel: Plum Pudding; Oxtails; Tawook Guenksis (a Turkish chicken recipe); and Rabbit at Top Speed. The first and last were sung in French, the middle two in English, by mezzo soprano Adriane Kerr. Lutsyshin’s rollicking piano cheerfully underscored the rollicking melodies which were blindingly fast—and not easy!
Six sections of the Divertissement from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker followed; it was the world premiere of Kasparov’s arrangement for piano duo. Kasparov noted that The Nutcracker is not as popular, not as highly thought of, in Russia as it is here. The dances take place in the Kingdom of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Spanish dance is called Chocolate, recalling the introduction of chocolate to Europe following the Spanish conquest of South America. The sonorous, mysterious Arabian dance evokes the Middle East, where coffee was cultivated for centuries. The Chinese dance celebrates tea. Candy Canes are the subject of the trepak, a muscular Russian dance. The Danish Shepherdesses was originally the dance of the mirlitons, which was the name of both a French sweet cake and a reed pipe. Mother Ginger and her Children was inspired by a Russian candy of the 1880s, sold in a well-known tin in the shape of a woman with a large skirt; the tin opened at the bottom to reveal the children inside.
It was lovely, familiar music in an unusual, delightful arrangement. It’s always interesting to watch Kasparov and Lutsyshyn’s piano four hands work. Turning pages, for instance—like doubles in tennis, they have to feel whose turn it is, because there’s no time to ponder the question. Lutsyshyn was on the left, playing the bass part and doing the pedaling, while Kasparov was on the right, playing the treble melodies—and yes, air-pedaling a bit.
Johann Sebastian Bach never wrote an opera—the only genre he didn’t contribute to—but his hilarious Coffee Cantata is as close as he could get to a comic opera. Before it even started, Kasparov had the audience in stitches showing them his “coffee” tie, patterned with cups. He conducted a delightful ensemble of flute (Wayla Chambo), two violins (Gretchen Loyola and Anna Dobrzyn), viola (Anastasia Migliozzi), cello (Jeffrey Phelps), Madeline Dietrich (double bass) and harpsichord (Lutsyshyn). The recitatives were sung in English, and the Arias between them were sung in German, with the translation thoughtfully included in the program. The narrator, tenor Brian Nedvin, began the tale of Mr. Schlendrian, at his wits’ end because his daughter Liesgen is addicted to coffee and won’t give it up, as he asks. Gregory Gardner’s clean, clear bass brought out Schlendrian’s concern for his daughter and frustration that she won’t do what he says. Soprano Elizabeth Hogue was wonderfully expressive as Liesgen, the contrary daughter who swears if she can’t have her three little cups of coffee a day, she’ll turn into a shriveled-up roast goat.
Her father warns, “If you don’t give up coffee for me, you won’t go to any wedding parties or even out for walks." “Fine,” she sings. “Leave my coffee alone!” Father threatens to withhold a new dress, bonnet ribbons, even looking out the window, but Liesgen is adamant. Ah, but she wants a husband. . . okay, no more coffee—and the narrator sings of Schlendrian going about, looking for a husband for her—while Liesgen decided the marriage contract will have a clause that she will be permitted to brew coffee whenever she wants it.
As Shakespeare said, “If music be the food of love, play on.”
All three—Nedvin, Gardner and Hogue, join in the final joyful, rueful chorus with the full ensemble. It was an utterly charming end to an utterly charming evening.
This review was originally broadcast on WHRO 90.3 FM’s “From the other side of the Footlights.”
Personal Notes on Norfolk Chamber Consort’s Bon appétit!
Chandler Hall, February 8, 2016
Review by John Campbell
Listening to music always gets a strong reaction, except when it doesn’t. Since M.D. Ridge did a fine review of Bon appétit!, I have decided to share my more personal thoughts on this magical evening.
Opening with Erik Satie (1866-1925) 3 Morceaux en forme de poire (1903), I was reminded that in 2003 Satie’s gently intriguing piano music was the sound track I chose while recovering from a debilitating bout with cancer. I wondered why my “complete” Vox Box 2 CD set played by Frank Glazer did not include the piece—it was written for piano-four--hands—and Glazer only had two! Later, after I’d recovered, my brother-in-law gave me a CD played by Aldo Ciccolini that has the piece but his un-idiomatic playing gives you the notes but with no understanding of Satie’s—or even French—music. Definitely not music to heal by! On the other hand, Invencia Duo's performance honored French style in these charming, quirky piano pieces—all 7 of them. If you're looking for a CD, pianist Pascal Rogé is excellent. His playing conveys the bitter-sweet melancholy as well as the happy qualities of Satie's music.
Next on the menu was La bonne cuisine: four recipes by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) written in 1947 and sung by mezzo-soprano Adriane Kerr. Her powerful, lightning-quick singing brought the song set vividly alive and Oksana Lutsyshyn accompanied with verve. Of the four songs, only the last, Civet à Toute Vitesse (Rabbit at Top Speed [literally Stew at Top Speed]), was familiar. We heard it once before in Chandler Hall in September, 1998, sung by the phenomenal Marilyn Horne who has since retired. The setting of four 19th century French recipes was dedicated to and inspired by Jennie Tourel. But the clever song cycle, La Bonne Cuisine, was premiered by soprano Marion Bell in 1948, shortly after Bernstein's 30th birthday.
I love that Andrey Kasparaov and Oksana Lutsyshyn always bring us new experiences, such as the world premiere of Kasparov’s arrangement for piano duet, Divertissement from Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) which included: Chocolate (Spanish Dance), Coffee (Arabic Dance), Tea (Chinese Dance) and several others which brought new life to these much-heard tunes. Kasparov said the freedom Tchaikovsky expressed in arranging his own music inspired his arrangement of these movements from the ballet. They do not further the plot but are for amusement only and indeed these new arrangements were showpieces for the piano duo.
I remember my delight when, in the late 1960s , I discovered that the serious composer J.S. Bach (1685-1750) wrote a Coffee Cantata—a dialogue, I imagined between him and his daughter. Having often listened to Bach’s Coffee Cantata on stereo recordings, my only live experience until now was the daughter’s aria Heute noch, lieber Vater, tut es doch! (even today, dear father, make it happen!) sung by Agnes Mobley-Wynne at the Trinity Lutheran Church of Norfolk’s 2008 Bach Festival where tonight's bass Greg Gardner has often performed Bach.
Readers who want more background can find it in John Eliot Gardiner’s book Bach, Music in the Castle of Heaven (2013). Conductor Gardiner has devoted a lifetime of study and performance to the vocal music of J.S. Bach. His book is filled with amazing details of Bach’s life and times. I heartily recommend it. He writes of the coffee house culture in Leipzig and goes into details about Herr Zimmermann’s Coffee houses where Bach led the local collegium musicum. In the cantata Bach gives the opening lines to the narrator (tenor Brian Nedvin) who demands that the raucous crowd pay attention to the dialogue between the father (bass Greg Gardner) and his coffee-addicted daughter (soprano Elizabeth Hogue).
Picander, who wrote the text, ended the story when the father threatens the daughter with no husband if she does not give up her coffee—so typical of the male attitude toward women in that day, but this is not what Bach had in mind. The father, old Schlendrian (literally “Lazy Bones”), delivered in the wonderfully deep, bass voice of Mr. Gardner, goes off to find a husband for her. But daughter Liesgen, sung by the rich, full-bodied voice of Ms. Hogue, has secretly put it about in town that she will insist on a pre-nup that guarantees her the right to drink coffee whenever she wants. Bach added the final trio where we learn that daughter, mother and grandmother are all coffee lovers. The instrumentalists backing the trio played with such enthusiasm and beauty that we all were bathed in their glow of joy.
My recommended recording is on L'Oiseau-Lyre: Coffee and Peasant Cantatas with English soprano Emma Kirkby and bass David Thomas. Christopher Hogwood leads the Academy of Ancient Music.
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