Le Salon de Musiques, fast becoming one of Los Angeles' best places to experience chamber music, presented their sixth concert of the season on Sunday, March 9th 2014 at 4 p.m., at the fifth floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
The afternoon's program focused on three 19th century virtuoso pianists and their music: the great Franz Liszt (1811-1886), considered a rock star in his day, the amazing Clara Schumann (1819-1896) and the USA premier of a re-discovered Violin Sonata by Xaver Scharwenka. Also featured was USA Premiere of his Cello Sonata.
Originally from Poland, Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924) was a virtuoso pianist who composed mainly piano works for his extensive concert tours in Europe, America and other parts of the world. He performed his own piano concerto under the baton of Gustav Mahler, on tour in New York City. He was also the younger brother of the composer and music educator, Philippe Scharwenka (whose music was also presented last year at Le Salon's concerts). Today, these talented brothers and their music are almost completely unknown.
François Chouchan, founder and director of Les Salon de Musiques, spent a year researching to find a copy of the score of Xaver Scharwenka's Violin sonata, which had disappeared. He finally found the only existing score in the small town of Lübeck, Germany in private archival collection. It was therefore quite exciting for the audience and this reporter to hear Xaver Scharwenka's music performed for the first time in over 100 years.
Along with opening remarks by Chouchan and special guest, the German Consul General of Los Angeles Dr. Fischer, the Salon's resident musicologist, Julius Reder Carlson set the mood with his profound insight into the 1840 - 1890's classical music scene, and the amazing careers of Scharwenka, Liszt and Clara Schumann.
The concert opened with the lovely presence and artistry of soprano Elissa Johnston. She performed in six songs by Franz Liszt, usually heard as piano pieces, accompanied by Steven Vanhauwaert on piano. A regular soloist with the LA Master Chorale and other prestigious musical groups in California, Johnston has a light, crystalline soprano voice well suited for art songs.
She first sang “Tre Petrarch Sonnets” (Three Sonnets of Petrarch) sung in Italian. These demanding songs require a great deal of operatic expression and emotion. While Johnston had gorgeous ease in her high range, her lower voice seemed weak. Her approach seemed tentative and held back, and her Italian diction proved disappointing. More successful was her passionate performances of "Der Fischerknabe" and "O lieb’s so lang du Lieben Kannst" (the famous Liebestraum) sung in perfect German. In the final song, "O Quand Je Dors" (Oh, When I'm dreaming), sung in excellent French, her expressive singing beautifully melded with her glistening soprano tones. An accomplished vocal artist, one looks forward to Elissa Johnston's performing with Le Salon again in future seasons.
Steven Vanhauwaert, an international pianist and a regular at Le Salon’s events, accompanied her excellently on the Steinway piano. Vanhauwaert consistently played throughout the concert with shimmering tone and elegant feeling, rarely overpowering the other soloists.
The international French violinist, Guilliaume Sutre, performed next in the USA premiere of Xaver Scharwenka’s Violin Sonata in D minor. Composed very early in X. Scharwenka's life, it shows Scharwenka's mastery of composition.
In three movements, it often favors the piano rather than the violin, and is typical of the 19th century romantic style.Guilliaume Sutre played with evident ease, bringing sweet tones and graceful phrasing to the music. Steven Vanhauwaert, accompanied on piano playing the many virtuoso passages with exciting clarity.
Following was the USA Premiere of Xaver Scharwenka's Cello Sonata in E minor, op 46, written at the end of his life. This mature musical work, rich in melodic and harmonic structure, was quite dramatic. Unlike the Violin Sonata, in this piece the piano part was balanced with the complex music of the Cello.
The deeply felt performance of cellist Tim Landauer was excellent. Though at times over powered by the piano, his formidable technique and intensity helped bring this neglected music to life.
Overall the impression of Xaver Scharwenka's music compared with the more complex chamber works of his older brother, Philipp Scharwenka heard last season, seems less profound. Nonetheless, it was a thrill to be part of this musical re-discovery of not only one, but two, outstanding musical personalities from the 19th century.
The unusually lengthy concert, concluded with a powerfully performed Piano Trio in G Minor by Clara Schumann. She was one of the great 19th century pianists, and today known more as the wife of the composer Robert Schumann. During her long life, she held a unique position in society at that time. In her lifetime, she was far more famous than her husband, was one of very few women at that time with a public career and performed extensively, was an accomplished composer and the mother of eight children.
C. Schumann’s Piano Trio in G Minor has 4 movements, each in different mood and musical content. The work is similar in style to Brahms, with whom Clara was also involved and mentored. The dynamic ensemble work of Guillaume Sutre, violin, Tim Landauer, cello and Steven Vanhauwert on piano vividly enunciated the fine genius in Clara Schumann's music.
Following this intense musical program, the very appreciative audience enjoyed sipping a glass of French champagne while in conversation with the artists. Afterwards, gourmet refreshments by Patina were served.
More information on the final three concerts this season, of Le Salon de Musiques: www.lesalondemusiques.com