By Ted AYALA
Under a tapestry of moonlight and stars on Saturday night, Classical Underground presented a mixed program of chamber and vocal music at Pasadena’s Levitt Pavilion in Memorial Park. The program was a zesty mix of composers from different eras and genres: from Vivaldi to Scriabin, from Lutoslawski to Leonard Bernstein.
Trumpeters Courtney Jones and Ilya Sergienko headed the program with Antonio Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Two Trumpets in C.” Both Jones and Sergienko deftly navigated Vivaldi’s challenging passages of rapid-fire ostinati and tricky rhythmic interplay between the two instruments. Both Jones and Sergienko graced the audience with supple and warm brass tone.
Sergienko followed solo with three encores, the most memorable of which was an arrangement for trumpet and piano of Alexander Scriabin’s heraldic “Etude No.12, op.8.” So assured was Sergienko’s playing in the Scriabin that it nearly dispelled the memory of the solo piano original.
A moment of opulent romanticism was ushered in by the voice of soprano Oxana Senina in a clutch of vocal works by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Vincenzo Bellini. Her fine voice, with a rich middle register and a light upper register, were heard to best effect in the song, “Oh Cease Thy Singing, Maiden Fair” by Rachmaninoff. Best known for his works for piano, his songs have suffered comparative neglect. A pity because Rachmaninoff’s songs are among his loveliest creations, with his natural melodic impulse blossoming in full flower.
Senina held the audience in hushed awe as she caressed the long lines of Rachmaninoff’s vocal lines. The applause that exploded at the end of the song was well deserved. The superb work of accompanist Diane Ketchie was the proverbial icing on the cake.
Cellist Laszlo Mezo brought his firm and oaken tone to a pair of chestnuts by Niccolo Paganini and David Popper. In Paganini’s “Variations on a Theme by Rossini,” Mezo gracefully captured the humor and whimsy of the Paganini piece in playing that was light and sparkling. Mezo’s baritonal richness was at the forefront, though, in Popper’s “Polonaise de Concert” where his timbre was arresting and full-throated.
Ending the concert amid cries of “Mambo!” from the audience was a pair of clever and brilliant arrangements for solo piano and percussion by pianist Mikael Oganes. Reducing large works like Witold Lutoslawski “Variations on a Theme by Paganini” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” would seem to be a near impossible task given the contrapuntal nature of both works. Yet Oganes’ arrangements were impressive, sounding absolutely natural with nary a note or voice missing from the originals.
Of course, all this would have been meaningless had it not been for the thrilling playing of Oganes and percussionist John Astaire, who both pounded away with abandon and exacting virtuosic accuracy.
As applause still resounded, Olga Vlasova, Classical Underground co-founder, explained why she created her organization.
“Music is my passion,” she said. “What we try do here at [Classical Underground] is break the barriers between musicians and audience. We don’t want musicians to be just at concert halls but with people. This is what gets me so excited. It’s a joy for me to see this audience get so excited and it gets the musicians excited. It’s like a big party.”
For more information on Classical Underground’s forthcoming events, visit www.classicalunderground.com or visit their blog at www.classicalunderground.blogspot.com.