By Ted AYALA
“How has something this wonderful been forgotten for this long?” Chances are that’s the number one question on your mind after a Le Salon de Musiques concert.
The path of musical history is a wide and sometimes widely traveled one, winding and twisting more so as the centuries progress, splitting and forking onto byways that sometimes lead to fortune, more often into lonely dead-ends rife with overgrown weeds.
Le Salon demonstrated on Sunday that for every famous composer at least dozens remain in their shadows. For every Fauré there is a Hahn, for every Roussel a Cras whose toils have gathered dust in the ignominious oblivion of a fickle public’s musical consciousness.
Some, like Eugène Ysaÿe, whose splendid and neo-Bachian “Trio for Two Violins and Viola” formed the centerpiece of last Sunday’s concert, found their works as creative musicians had to compete with their world-beating reputations as performing musicians.
In a single, concise movement (though musicologists have since found additional movements), Ysaÿe’s “Trio” was evidence that the revolt against Wagner, the lushness of the 19th century was well underway before Stravinsky came along. Yet the 19th century is engraved, encoded even, into its tight strands of rigorous counterpoint. Nowhere is the Stravinskian irony that was the keynote of 20th century neoclassicism (at least at its dawn) evident. Instead, sincerity and severity are the twin pillars of Ysaÿe’s idiom, though the latter quality is sweetened with sparing drops of Romantic warmth.
Likewise, Reynaldo Hahn’s lithe “Soliloquy and Forlane for Viola and Piano” and “Nocturne and Romance for Violin and Piano” fused Busonian (or better still Mendelssohnian) “young classicism” with the Romantic penchant for rich harmonies and wide-breathed melodies.
Wilhelm Peterson-Berger’s youthful “Violin Sonata,” on the other hand, was Late Romanticism at full bloom: Aromatic harmonies, supple melodies.
There were moments of interest in Jean Cras’ “Piano Quintet,” which closed the program, though they were padded with equal parts filler.
The performance of the Cras was stunning nonetheless, potently expressive and deeply nuanced.
Los Angeles Philharmonic concertmaster Martin Chalifour played the solo part in Peterson-Berger’s sonata with agility and charm.
He was joined by violist Carrie Dennis, a fellow section leader at the Philharmonic. She coaxed from her instrument an almost vocal sound, now smokily crooning, now pealing resonantly. Violinist Ambroise Aubrun, on the other hand, laid out the Hahn and Ysaÿe scores with limpid clarity.
The magic thread throughout, joining all the musicians in the Cras, was pianist Kevin Fitz-Gerald. His sense of textural coloring, harmonic shading, and singing tone were a joy.
It would be enough to hear on a single program so many overlooked treasures from musical history. But to bring them to light with such polished and committed performances as Le Salon does time and again is an embarrassment of riches.