We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Benjamin Laude, Maya Lahyani, Elad Kabilio

Last night we experienced "Music Talks" for the very first time. We hope it will not be the last. Host and master cellist Elad Kabilio has a mission of presenting classical music in an intimate and informal setting, bringing this music to a broader public. On the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, he has skills as an educator and manages to convey quite a bit of helpful information without talking down to his audience.

He founded "Music Talks" four years ago and we were happy to be made aware of his project by the sensational Israeli mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani whom we first noticed (and reviewed) at last year's Gerda Lissner Awards Recital in which she sang the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen.

We are far from experts in the field of chamber music but we are eager to learn and profited by Mr. Kabilio's comments about Russian music. Not only were the comments useful but there was live demonstration on both cello and on Benjamin Laude's piano that sharpened our listening skills.

Aside from the vocal music, which we will come to shortly, we heard selections from three generations of Russian composers. As one may have predicted, our Romantic ears responded most enthusiastically to Tchaikovsky's Nocturne for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 19.

We learned that a Nocturne was generally played at the end of an evening of music and we learned to listen for the opening theme in the cello which was lavishly embroidered by the piano when it returned after the lavish coda of the second section.

We then heard Chant du Ménestrel, Op. 71  by Alexander Glazunov, who came along a generation after Tchaikovsky. The cello was intense and we related best to the lyrical center section.

Stravinsky's revolutionary tendencies and eclecticism were discussed before we heard his 1925 Serenade in A for piano, beautifully played by Mr. Laude. We learned why this composer returned to Romanticism for this work and why each of the four sections lasts only 3 minutes. (If you can guess why and write it in the comments section below, you will get a free subscription to the blog!)

The first part "Hymn" was an homage to Chopin and once Mr. Laude played the original Chopin melody on the piano, we could better appreciate what Stravinsky did to it. We also learned about how he avoided defining the major/minor issue at the conclusion of the piece "Cadenza Finale".

As valuable as the instrumental part of the program was, we found the highest level of interest in the vocal section. Ms. Lahyani is a mezzo of the highest order who can be seen and heard onstage at the Metropolitan Opera. She has a voluptuous plushy sound that was just right for Sergei Rachmaninoff's Romantic songs. The first four were composed when Rachmaninoff was barely past his teenage years.

We loved the intense drama of "Oh Stay, my love, forsake me not!" written in the throes of an ill-fated love affair with a girl who had (insert gasp) "Gypsy blood". "Morning" is a gentle song which Ms. Lahyani swelled to a fine climax. "In the silence of the mysterious night" was followed by our favorite "Do not sing, my beauty, to me".

This is among our dozen favorite songs by ANY composer. The minor key melody is memorable and the words are haunting and ineffably sad. It is still running through our brain and inhabiting our heart. Ms. Lahyani did particularly well with the vocalise section. The depth of feeling and variety of dynamics were impressive.

We also heard an intense song from a later period of Rachmaninoff's oeuvre--"All once I gladly owned", and as encore, Tchaikovsky's well known "None but the lonely heart".

To our ears, Ms. Lahyani's Russian sounded just fine but our native born Russian companion told us that although the words were mostly comprehensible, the Russian was pronounced with a significant accent.

We have one criticism of this otherwise superb performance. We have written often about the use of a music stand. In this case, Ms. Lahyani barely looked at it and we had the impression that the score was there more as a security blanket. But it does serve to interrupt the connection with the audience.

All told, it was a most worthwhile evening--mostly entertaining with a healthy dose of instruction.

(c) meche kroop

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