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French Connection

Cho-Liang Lin

By Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

Jon Kimura Parker and Cho-Liang Lin take the Cliburn Concerts audience to heavenly heights, via Paris.

It would take a whole thesaurus of superlatives to properly describe the concert at Bass Hall in Fort Worth on Tuesday. Pianist Jon Kimura Parker and violinist Cho-Liang Lin, under the auspices of the Cliburn Concerts, presented "An Evening in Paris," but it was really an evening in a musical heaven.

Before the first notes were played, just looking at the program was enough to intrigue. They presented four major works that were all written in approximately the same era by composers that were either French or French-connected. There were three sonatas and one pseudo-sonata.

Claude Debussy's 1917 sonata was his final completed composition. The leaner textures of this work and the fantastical writing in the second movement in no way hide the composer's harmonic innovations but points to the neo-classical movement that was to come. That movement was ushered in by the piece that opened the program, Stravinsky's 1920 ballet Pulcinello, in a 1925 arrangement by the violinist Samuel Dushkin. Dushkin knew Stravinsky's style from the inside out, he played the premiere of the composer's violin concerto, and his arrangement perfectly caught the mood of the larger work.

Maurice Ravel's Sonata dates from 1922 and was dedicated to Debussy's memory. In it, he mimics the leaner textures of Debussy's sonata while looking forward with a bluesy second movement (which is actually entitles "Blues"). A later work, but still in the same neo-classical line, is Francis Poulenc's 1942 Sonata. Here, Ravel's blues are traded for the café or boîte style, as demonstrated so beautifully in the Intermezzo movement.

Simply put, although there was nothing simple about it, the performances on Tuesday evening were faultless. The Parker/Lin pairing caught the distinctive differences of each composer and composition. Hearing them together, so expertly played, was both an inspiring and enlightening experience. Those in attendance will never think about these works in the same way again.

The program surrounded these monumental works with some related bonbons. They played an evocative Heifetz transcription of Debussy's song Beau Soir and two pieces by Ravel, his Berceuse sur le non de Gabriel Faure and a student work, Piece en form de Habanera.

One other selection had a personal relationship to Lin that he related from the stage. He bought his first Stradivarius violin from Dushkin's widow. While he was there to pick it up, she offered him an arrangement of a Stravinsky tango that her husband had written and that was still in manuscript form in a drawer. She asked if he would like it. Silly question.

Also on a more humorous note, Parker gave some background on the discovery of Ravel's student work, the Habanera, which was played earlier. "Unfortunately, unlike the Dushkin, we didn't get the manuscript from Mrs. Ravel," he quipped.

(Mrs. Ravel? That would be the composer's mother?)

A tango by Astor Piazzolla was a fiery encore.