FrontRow Classical Music Concert Review: A Light, French Musical Evening Finds Its Swagger

11.16.11
Cho-Liang Lin
D Magazine

By Wayne Lee Gay

One might, at first, feel a little misled by the designation of the mostly-French, totally Francophile program Tuesday at Bass Performance Hall as “An Evening in Paris.” There was little hint of chestnut blossoms or can-can dancers or moonlit fountains.

But, on a more profound level, the repertoire selected for this collaboration of violinist Cho-Liang Lin and pianist Jon Kimura Parker was very much a reflection of a time when Paris had become a focus of reexamination, of deepening of shadows, and of realization of both the incredible possibilities and horrible realities of the early twentieth century.

Parker and Lin devoted the bulk of the evening to four substantial multi-movement works, opening with the most light-hearted of the group, the Suite Italienne arranged by violinist Samuel Dushkin from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, which in turn was derived from Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella of 1919, which was in turn based on melodies from the eighteenth-century Italian composer Giovanni Pergolesi. Light-hearted, yes, but light-hearted in reaction to both the First World War and the ponderous late romanticism that preceded it. Parker and Lin immediately revealed the wonderful combination of energy, imaginative timing, and precise execution this music demands.

They retreated briefly toward the more conventional expectations the title “An Evening in Paris” might convey with Jascha Heifetz’s transcription of Debussy’s dusky song “Beau Soir” (for which violinist Lin conjured a strikingly dark timbre) and the Stravinsky-Dushkin arrangement of Stravinksy’s Tango before moving back to a more serious tone with Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano form 1916—an austere work apt to surprise any listener who’s expecting Clair de Lune or Afternoon of a Faun.

After intermission, Lin and Parker returned with the evening’s second full-fledged Sonata for Violin and Piano, this time by Poulenc, who, as a younger contemporary to the three other composers on the program, produced a music in which the sense of contradictory trends was even greater. In this performance, the listener could sense a triumph of (or, maybe, surrender to) pure, kinetic intellectualism.

An all-Ravel section closed the evening, beginning with two short, delicate crowd pleasers (the Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Faure and the Habanera) followed up by the Sonata for Violin and Piano. Once again, the opulent impressionism we associate with the composer was far behind. The most striking of many beautiful moments arriving in the gently jazzy middle movement, expertly shaped by this amazing piano-violin team. For an encore, the duo returned to the Tango motif but departed fromParis for a beautifully broad exercise in that genre from late-twentieth-century Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla.