On Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, Jacaranada's 5th concert of their season, at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica, attempted to recreate the excitement caused by the experimental music of European composers in the early 20th century. Titled “Music Scandals of 1912-13" of music by Schoenberg, Webern, Berg and Stravinsky, the concert failed to ignite until fairly late in the evening. Despite their initial notoriety, except for Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" the rest of the pieces have fared less well with time. While it was a brave attempt at original programing, the overall concept never quite took off.
Opening the concert was Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” a problematic setting to music of 21 poems for soprano and small chamber ensemble. In this work Schoenberg created a new kind of speech-singing that had not existed before, “sprech-gesang.” A singing actress declaims the poems within various tonal centers and exact rhythms. Written originally in French by Albert Giraud, and then translated into German, these poems tell a surrealistic story of love, death, nature, the moon, longing and desire, accompanied by fragmented music.
Special guest, opera and concert artist, soprano Julia Migenes sang “Pierrot” in a specially revised English translation. Migenes, wearing a dramatic red velvet jacket over black, gracefully commanded the stage. Her dusky low speaking notes and shimmering high notes were always beautiful. Yet, her performance was marred by over reliance on a headset microphone which blurred her diction, and made much of the text disappear into a vocal fog. Despite her charismatic presence and the revised English text, Migenes's interpretation of “Pierre Lunaire” lacked the visceral power needed to bring these surrealistic poems to life.
Mark Alan Hilt's fine conducting brought out Schoenberg’s sparse yet evocative music, performed by the excellent instrumental ensemble: Guillaume Sutre,violin; Timothy Loo, cello; Donald Foster, clarinet; Mark Robson, piano and Pamela Vliek Martchev, flute. Especially appealing was the beautiful tones of Flutist, Pamela Vlike Marchev. Dressed in a lovely period costume and head ornaments, she added a welcome sparkle during her solos and the duet section with Julia Migenes, in Poem #7 "The Sick Moon."
After the intermission, the program continued with two pallid and whispy miniature chamber works by Webern: “Six Bagatelles for String Quartet” and “Three Pieces for String Quartet and Soprano" that dragged the pace of the evening. Both works were performed by Guillaume Sutre and Movses Pogossian on violins, Andrew McIntosh on viola, Timothy Loo on cello, who played Webern's music with exquisite attention to detail, form and color. Of historical interest was Webern's previously unpublished short song of lament, inserted into his "Three Pieces for String Quartet" and sung by Soprano Risa Larson. Larson, an attractive looking singer displayed an impressive voice, but little dramatic impact during her song.
More interesting was Alban Berg’s “Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano Op 5” performed by pianist Mark Robson and clarinetist, Donald Foster. Foster fully expressed Berg’s aching and melancholic phrases, making his clarinet sing in a beautiful range of colors. Robson on piano, brought crystal shine, opaque shudder and an architectural clarity to Berg’s music.
The evening’s final work was an fresh take on a 20th century masterwork, Stravinsky's “The Rite of Spring,” performed by the duo 4handsLA: Pianists Danny Holt and Steven Vanhauwaert. They performed a special 4 hands piano version of "The Rite of Spring" prepared by Stravinsky for it's first performance which he gave with Debussy at his side.
Steven Vanhauwaert playing the upper half of the keyboard (most of the time) and Danny Holt performing at the piano's Bass end, gave a tumultuous rock and roll performance that brought the house down. They made the piano rage, shout, sigh and cry with mystical longing. They readily achieved the furor and freshness that audiences felt when they witnessed Stravinsky and Debussy at the piano performing this iconoclastic work.
This stunning piano version of Stravinsky’s masterpiece, coming at the end of a long evening, was worth waiting for.
For more information about the Jacaranda’s upcoming concerts at the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, 1220 Second St., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Concert tickets, $40 general; $20 students:http://www.jacarandamusic.org.
RECAP of Jacaranda's Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 – “Thresholds: The Scandals of 1912-13” Program:
Pierrot Lunaire (1912)
Six Bagatelles Op. 9 (1911-13)
Three Pieces for String Quartet and Soprano (1913)
Four Pieces Op.5 (1913)
The Rite of Spring for piano 4-hands (1913)