The shadows of war loomed large in the programs presented this past weekend by the Lark Musical Society and Le Salon de Musiques. In one it was a cry of outrage, a plea for peace that was heard; in the other it was the lyrical creation of a man whose career and life were displaced by war.
Lark’s performance of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem,” which it performed in Pasadena on Saturday, was dedicated to the victims of war in Syria and in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh ¬– a salient, if troubling, reminder that this work’s message remains all-too relevant.
Britten’s score burns alight with outrage over the horror and utter futility of war, a quality that conductor Vatsche Barsoumian – who led the combined Lark Chorus, Tziatzan Children’s Choir, and orchestra – delineated with masterly control. Though he took care to emphasize the score’s expressive and textural details, it was never at the expense on his grip of its massive architecture.
His three vocal soloists were equal to the task set down by the composer. Soprano Shoushik Barsoumian refulgent voice was soaring in its sense of light, deeply touching in its gravitas. The tenor soloist, Yegishe Manucharyan, though sounding a touch strained and tight at times, amply imparted the great sense of urgency and declamatory power that permeated this work. Edward Lewy’s weighty baritone was an instrument of rich expressivity and crisp fiction.
At the heart of Le Salon de Musiques’ program at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Sunday afternoon was a work by Erich Zeisl, an Austrian composer whose promising career was derailed by the Anschluss in 1938, which forced him to abandon Vienna. He first settled in Paris under the tutelage and protection of Darius Milhaud, then to Los Angeles. There he spent the rest of his life, knocking out musical hackwork semi-anonymously in Hollywood and teaching at Los Angeles City College before dying of a heart attack in 1959 at the age of 53.
Zeisl’s “Piano Trio, Op. 8,” a product of his 18th year, is a score awash in alt-Wienerisch gemütlichkeit and the glow of Late Romanticism’s setting sun, comparing favorably with the work of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Schmidt or Joseph Marx.
Another rarity was the “Cello Sonata No. 2” of Julius Röntgen, a prolific Dutch composer whose work had been championed by Edvard Grieg and Willem Mengelberg. If his work has fallen into obscurity today (Le Salon de Musiques’ performance of the piece was its American premiere), it is through no fault of the composer. Brimming with melody, it was an attractive and fresh sounding work that deserves to be much better known.
On opposite sides of the program stood the music of Max Bruch and Johannes Brahms, their “String Quartet No. 1” and “Piano Quintet” respectively.
The performances by the Le Salon de Musiques were impeccably brilliant. Vijay Venkatesh’s sparkling pianism and innate sense of partnership were a joy to hear. The string players – consisting of Teresa Stanislav (1st violin), Erik Arvinder (2nd violin), Rob Brophy (viola) and Jacob Braun (cello) – were polished and smooth, expressive without lapsing into sentimentality.