Season Finale at Dilijan: Somber Reflection of Armenian Genocide, Friends Lost
By Ted AYALA
Bittersweet was the mood at Zipper Hall on April 15 as the Dilijan Chamber Music Series closed out its concert season. This season finale was, as has been a tradition for Dilijan since its inception, a commemoration of the atrocities suffered by the Armenian people during the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks, an event now only three years shy of the century mark. But adding to the mood of reflection were the recent deaths of Dr. Harmon Hubbard, a longtime supporter of Dilijan, as well as a cherished family member of series founder Movses Pogossian.
Yet even as the music plummeted depths of introspection and melancholy, it was animated with an inner resilience and vigor that animated the music on the program. This was music not about submission, but resistance; of ultimately thriving despite adversity – a program that reflected the indomitable Armenian spirit.
Defiance, leavened with good doses of aristocratic majesty, were the ingredients of Vladimir Chernov’s interpretation of Dmitri Shostakovich’s late “Suite on Verses by Michelangelo Buonarotti.” Originally scheduled to perform the suite in its entirety, a last minute program adjustment forced Chernov to include only four selections from the work.
He imbued a King Lear-like tragic cast to the songs “Dante” and “To the Exile,” both of them among Shostakovich’s mightiest essays in song. His take on “Creativity” snarled with righteous fury, while in the final song, “Immortality,” he was able to scale back his voice to a velvety pianissimo. It was deeply regretful that he was not allowed to sing the entire suite as originally planned.
But Chernov also proved he had charm in spades, proving it with handsome singing in Shostakovich’s “Four Romances on Poems by Pushkin.” A transitional work between his earlier work like the “Symphony No. 4” and his later, more severe style augured by the “Symphony No. 5,” it provides a very fascinating look into this crucial period of the composer’s career.
“There is still a bit of the hooligan in these songs,” remarked Nikolai Myaskovsky when he first encountered the piece.
Indeed, some of the old Shostakovichian wit could be heard in “Jealousy,” though now of a restrained kind, even austere. Chernov here impressed with his vivid sense of drama and a bronzed voice that would have made the composer very happy. Accompanist, the superb Neal Stulberg, had the full measure of Shostakovich’s quasi-symphonic writing for the piano.
Sandwiched in between the Shostakovich song cycles was the ambitious “Piano Trio” or “Ashot Kartalyan:” a world premiere of Dilijan and a product of Glendale’s Lark Musical Society, of whom he is its first graduate in composition.
It took no more than a handful of bars to determine that Kartalyan’s lode star is Shostakovich. Those typical Shostakovich mannerisms – brittle counterpoint, obsession with certain rhythmic cells and melodic intervals, dramatic use of octaves – was on full display. It was unfortunate that Kartalyan’s trio should have followed and preceded Shostakovich as it only served to highlight the enormous stylistic debt it owes the older composer. It would have been far better to have programmed it elsewhere on the program. Despite these reservations, it was clear that Kartalyan is an interesting talent that is still in the process of maturing; one that will certainly repay careful study.
Schubert’s aching “String Quartet No. 13,” nicknamed “Rosamunde” for its slow movement which adapts a theme famously used in the eponymous incidental music, was performed with tender devotion and open-hearted warmth. The limping, maimed minuet was heavy with sorrow; the first movement anxious. The musicians Movses Pogossian (1st violin), Varty Manouelian (2nd violin), Carrie Dennis (viola), and Jonathan Karoly (cello) were outstanding, honed sharply into Schubert’s often despondent sound world.
The concert opened with Stulberg performing an eloquent and hushed take on J. S. Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Minor” from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Its quiet and unforced grace was the capstone on a powerful concert and season.