Norfolk Chamber Consort:
Lenny and His Friends
Chandler Recital Hall, January 29, 2018
Review by John Campbell

This is an addendum to Adelaide Coles' review of the ODU New Music Ensemble concert led by Andrey Kasparov. Several of the same pieces appeared on that program and we will defer to Ms. Coles' brilliant descriptions from that program, though those performers were sometimes different than the ones we heard on January 29th.

The opening piece was Leonard Bernstein's (1918-1990) first published work, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1942). It has become a standard in the clarinet repertory even though it had mixed critical reactions when published. Kevin Clasen, clarinet and Kasparov, piano, played the edgy, buoyant, “youthful” music with panache, bringing out the mid-century lyricism and nostalgia. The first movement explores a Hindemith-style theme that is developed, complete with an exhilarating and novel approach to recapitulation. Opening calmly, the second movement is soon dancing a jazzy tune, brilliant clarinet, dense piano. A mellow but unhappy, quiet section was followed by a peppy duet in which the piano line was decorated by clarinet bursts. Harmonically it ended where it began in A major.

Piano miniatures were played by Oksana Lutsyshyn. Two by Bernstein from Seven Anniversaries (1942) titled For Aaron Copland—with a wide-open American sound—and For Paul Bowles, with a busy, off-kilter tune. A Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) one, Persistently pastoral: Aaron Copland (1942), has a sort of Baroque march in the grand fashion that ends the piece. Thomson's Souvenir: Portrait of Paul Bowles (1935) was a rush of perky notes tripping over each other that ended soon. The most interesting piece of the group was La Cuelga (The gift) (1946) by Paul Bowles, written as a gift for Bernstein's birthday. These pieces were written by mostly young creative types in New York showing off for each other!

Then came the high point of the evening: Elizabeth Hogue singing Cunegonde's Aria “Glitter and Be Gay” from Bernstein's operetta Candide (1956, rev. 1989) with Kasparov at the piano. Ms. Hogue was in costume with a table with jewels and a hand mirror and the best equipped voice I have ever heard do this song—as light as champagne bubbles in the high notes and satisfying richness in the low ones. After a look in the mirror a cloud of self-doubt crossed her face as she sang of her lost honor. Cunegonde had shared her body with several prominent Parisians to maintain her opulent life-style—after all, she was born the daughter of a baron and only the purest diamond can purify her name. Marvelous fun!

For clear sight lines between the pianists, the two pianos were spaced far apart for Bowles' Night Waltz (1949), Nocturne and Turkey Trot, played by Invencia Piano Duo—Kasparov and Lutsyshyn. It was the first public performance of the boogie-woogie tune of the one-minute long Turkey Trot. These pieces were exciting and fun and can be found on the duo's CD.

Following two so-so pieces of moderate interest by Copland, played with conviction by Invencia, Danzón cubano (1946) and Danza de Jalisco (1963), we heard three songs sung by ODU senior Cailin Crane discussed in Ms. Coles' review above, and once again beautifully performed for us.

The program ended with Bernstein's Halil: Nocturne for Flute, Percussion and Piano, but with a different flutist (Wayla Chambo) and the piano part was divided by Kasparov between two pianos, Oksana Lutsyshyn on the second piano joined Nichole Dorobanov. I only know the piece in its original form with strings and no piano. It is very different; the pathos expressed by the strings is much deeper than can be achieved with piano. My CD is by the Israeli Philharmonic with Bernstein conducting.

I will give John Adams (b. 1947), the last word. Adams, whose works are among the most performed of American contemporary classical composers, heard his “first dose of modern music, The Right [sic] of Spring" (or so he heard the title at the time), introduced and conducted by Bernstein during a radio broadcast of Bernstein's first season as music director of the New York Philharmonic. From that moment on he was a fan, and like so many of us, heard and watched every broadcast program.

Adams has said ”Bernstein's greatest gift was that he could operate with total ease and naturalness in both worlds, that of high art and that of American “popular” culture. No one since has quite been able to straddle the two worlds with such ease, although many have tried.” Adams' complete essay can be found in Burton Bernstein and Barbara B. Haws' book Leonard Bernstein American Original (2008).

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