By Ted AYALA
For local lovers of French chamber music, this last year has proven to be a feast for the ears. Lark Musical Society’s Dilijan Chamber Series continued the buffet with their own foray into French music on Sunday at Zipper Hall in Downtown Los Angeles with a distinctive program that focused on lesser-known works from France.
Bookending the program were works by Camille Saint-Saëns and Gabriel Fauré, each one in its way breaking the popular stereotype of these composers.
Where Saint-Saëns is sometimes remembered as a fusty reactionary in his gray years, his late “Fantasy in A for Violin and Harp” was evidence that the composer was capable of tapping into a vein of perfumed sensuality not unlike the kind associated with his friend and colleague Fauré. The normally buttoned-down composer waxed rhapsodic in the luscious treatment given the music by violinist Guillaume Sutre and his wife, harpist Kyunghee Kim-Sutre.
At the opposing end was Fauré’s austere “Piano Quintet No. 2.” France is recognized for the lightness of its art, its opposition to Teutonic weight. But Fauré’s late chamber work proved that it was possible to merge refinement and clarity with a sense of emotional depth that remains uniquely French.
Dilijan also gave a nod to Armenia’s rich contribution to the French muse by way of the “Sonata for Violin and Piano” by Turkish-Armenian composer Edgar Manas. The music’s French roots – it was composed while the composer was living in Paris – were apparent enough. But it also was spiced with Scrabinesque chromaticism and a nervous energy that had a Slavic twist. Violinist Movses Pogossian and pianist Judith Gordon made a compelling case for the work, highlighting the hothouse intensity and cosmopolitan flavor of the music.
The performance by Dilijan chamber members – Varty Manouelian and Guillaume Sutre (violins), Richard Yongjae O’Neill (viola), Ronald Leonard (cello), and Judith Gordon – in the Fauré work was equally inspired. The music, though produced by a composer whose outlook grew disenchanted with the passing of the years, nevertheless laid bare the strength at the music – and composer’s – soul. It also brought to relief elements, especially in the third movement, that Shostakovich would employ in his own “Piano Quintet.”
Debussy’s “Sacred Dance and Profane Dance” for harp and strings followed the Saint-Saëns. It was a rich, earthy performance, as different – and as valid – as Southwest Chamber Music’s airy performance of the same work over the summer. Especially winning were the vibrancy of Kim-Sutre’s musicianship on her instrument and the languid sensuality of the strings.