The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

UMCWV 2021: 'Russian Treasures' Concert Review

B. Asafiev posited that the musical arts were the ‘most real reflection of reality and thus, through sympathizing with a composer’s ‘will to creation,’ the listener could manifest life in sounding, the bad, the good, and the ugly. However, one’s ability to channel the cosmos into sound was not activated by simply writing down notes on a silent page, nor did it mean every composer possessed the gift of being “some big conduit of the universe” in the words of Saxophonist Tom Politzer. In my quest to ‘hear’ music the Asafievian way, meaning rendering yourself submissive to the consummate embrace of intonational flows as they happen without pre-determined schema’s, I had found myself on the quest for concert programs mainly dealing with Russian repertoire. And as if by divine intervention, I found Westlake Village Music Society’s concert, ‘Russian Treasures,’ to which I became immediately beguiled into attendance due to their eclectic program which featured three, well-known Russian composer’s, although their ‘symphonic’ levels, namely their ability to rebel against Academic putrification rampant in Conservatory-trained composers of the time, varied greatly.

The online, YouTube concert consisted of Glazunov’s Etude No.2 (Op.31), composed in 1891 following a combative, self-doubtful year of little to no compositional output, Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Mvt. 1 (Op.42), written for his benefactress Nadezhda von Meck in 1878 in the swirl of nostalgic airs of roses and lilacs in bloom, and concluded with a two-piano punctuation, Rachmaninoff’s Fantaisie-tableaux, Suite No.2 (Op.5), written in 1893 to personify the labyrinthian conjecture of a mind wishing for home. This evocative, Golden-Age assortment of late 19th-c. repertoire was performed by three, acuminous musicians all exemplifying a virtuosic sensitivity unable to be formally taught, the Japanse-born pianist Tomiko Hamada Taylor [founder of Peace in Concert], the American-born pianist Christine De Klotz [seasoned Festival pianist and accompanist], and Russian-born violinist Dmitrii Tabala [14-year strong, Award-winning performing musician].

In the first piece, Christine’s nimble verisimilitude sonorously atoning for Glazunov’s rather serialistic verticalism which he hides behind a veil of beautiful, but by no means interesting, aphoristic moments. At times, she played rather heavy handedly, opting-in for a mono-dynamic approach, a fault I partially blame on the limitations of recording rather than her own stylistic grievances, but overall her technical training was clearly evident, although Glazunov is an all around poor choice if one wants to invoke ‘life in sounding.’

For the second piece, Christine was joined by Dmitri in a rather cinematic rendition of Tchaikovsky’s ‘best’ movement, choosing intimate dimness and choice illumination to highlight the intrinsic trepidity and Sturm und Drang meets Russian melos, amalgamative sonicity which radiated a sorrowful maturity far surpassing human ability. This palpably ‘tragic pathos’ explained by Asafiev, “the life of an intellectually gifted person and his struggle with everything that prevents the full manifestation of his creative powers (hence the struggle with death as a predetermined violence).” Dmitri’s magnificent bowing and refined dynamism, not to mention his total command of range and timbral hues, seems to effortlessly achieve the Tchaiksovian attainability to which Asafiev so eloquently identified. An authentic, ‘democratic,’ Russian spirit carved into the social consciousness through the ‘lyric poetry of a peasant song’ passed from generation to generation, always holding its of-the-people-ness despite its relentless permutations. Christine and Dmitri shared one soul, unified in sympathetic resonances emanating from Tchaikovsky’s true source, life in its duplexity of invigoration and hope but very real tendency for passive serfdom with not a second thought, all capped with an ultimate finality unable to be avoided at any cost for which the collective ‘we’ propagate beliefs to make more palatable the truly inevitable.

Finishing the concert, Christine was again joined, this time by Tomiko acting as the second pianist, to perform a picturesque, sonic journey which, despite lacking a programmatic narrative, certainly captured a througline of versatile longing to reinstate the passionate flame so ardently felt previously, derived here from a memory past but not forgotten. But that typifies Rachmaninoff, a man forever tied to his native homeland whose ‘silence noise [‘the calls of life’],” became intrinsic to his composorial verbiage and if starved of such stimulations, could not envision living at all. The first vignette, The Gondolier Song, employs a coy satiricalism to the undulational, watery tides whose surging resplendence, at the masterfully wicked hands of Christine and Tomiko, never once ceases or falters in its commitment to moving vitality. With the inclusion of the sagacious tones of the Gondolier amidst the unrelenting movement, executed with utter precision accompanied by a demure coolness asking for no favors except for your attention, our rendezvous in the Venetian night under the effulgent mystique of her rays end with a whimsical reminder of the fickleness of love, yet very real sensations it produces. We say so long, but not goodbye. We are then invited into Night...Love, another amorous contiguity of the profound pines of love and the sensual naturalness which binds all creatures together as if by a Godly direction, a role I bestow to Cupid and his divine arrows. Through a constantly developmental texture, each pianist trading their designated roles as either necessary thematic foundation or virtuosic incarnation in quick succession, the joyful reconnaissance of the love-stricken heart is made man, and Rachmaninoff’s musical conduits not only successfully condition the ears to a new reality made manifest, but melodiously take you by the hand and invite to sit at the feet of love itself.

By far the most contemplative of the four portraits, Tears personifies the slow transformation of Rachmaninoff’s Russia of yore into the Soviet nightmare that was to plague this once utopian homeland that he loved so dearly. The slow percolation of tension which is inculcated into the agitational fabric through major-minor vascilliations and crisp, assertive, yet gracefully methodical motion speaks to Christine and Tomiko’s ability to be constantly in-sync with each other in this wholly, self-absorbed duet with no solutions granted other than to live another day, play another song, and love a country far removed from its original. The ending is quite idiosyncratic, as Christine reverberates a march-like, toll ostinato to which Tomiko embellishes with upward flourishes, successfully lowering in tonality until, with the introduction of rustling leaves [a chilling reminder of nature’s death as well], Christine descend, matched by Tomiko, with the final, miserable tolls being uttered in a pathetic sympathy for only itself. Cupid speaks his last, Russia falls victim, the lovers mourn their intangible loss, and the tears which flowed cease.

But, like all things, a renewal of spirit erupts from the fallen ashes of the past and in the final vignette, aptly named Easter, the Rachmaninoffian exuberance, the ‘stormy outbursts of joy’ and his ‘all-conquering vitality,’ permeate our ears and more importantly, our hearts, in the process reminding us of the deliverance that shall come that bright, flowering, God given morning. Harnessing the quintessence of an Orthodox Church and her bells on Christ’s ascension into heaven, an example heard here, Christine and Tomiko issue in a chord-rich, cacophony of hope which, in its entirety, really only revolves around a 10ish note fragment, but is embellished and manipulated in waves of textural-dynamic fantasticism. As this final scene grows in gravitas, Christine being engaged in cross-body ostinati with Tomiko taking the reigns of bell melody manipulation, the sun matches its power and breaks through the clouded heavens. Rachmaninoff’s starts to breathe in these celestial rays and his heart rate subsequently begins to rise, meanwhile these two pianists merge into one [the Russia that was and the Russia that will be], congruously extoling the Russia that was to the Russia that is and with their final brush-up and marked, chordal punctuation, we as listeners are reminded that the Russian spring envisioned by Rachmaninoff was not just a hope for him, but a promise he made and was bound to keep.

From the onset, this concert was rather exceptional given the fact that, through only two instruments and three performers, there was a patent sense of orchestral potency rife within most of the program. From Glazunov’s academic composure and its ‘beautiful moments’ demeanour, Christine managed to find a gestural fluency and impart its essence onto the listener. Dmitri then coalesced with Christine to invite the listener into the compassionate distress of the Tchaikovskian mind, a devout member of life in all of its faces who used a ‘lyrical/dramatic melos’ amalgam to strengthen his hold of the ‘subjective’ mode of creationism. To conclude, Christine was joined by Tomiko for a sensational journey through the ‘psychic imbalance’ which prevented Rachmaninoff from ever deviating from personifying a ‘quivering, responsive heart’ in the quixotic ideal of his Russia gone by. I am thoroughly impressed and cannot wait to hear more from this organization, especially from the young talent Dmitri Tabala, as his quickly burgeoning future has a golden palace waiting for him at the end of a, hopefully, very long road of artistic engagements.

The concert can be viewed here.

I leave you with this thought...

“I compose music because I must give expression to my feelings, just as I talk because I must give utterance to my thoughts.” - Sergei Rachmaninoff

[PC: Dmitri: The Echo, Christine: Los Robles Children's Chorus, Tomiko: Los Robles Master Choral]

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