By Ted Ayala
At the opening: A composer best known for his panoramic orchestral frescoes distilling a lifetime’s experience into a deeply introspective and austere solo instrumental work. At the close: An uncharacteristically tragic work from a composer whose music often stands as some of the most joyful ever composed. Composers at the extremes—of life as well as their art—stood on either side of last Sunday’s Dilijan Chamber Series concert at the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall. The program, especially its outer sections, was a study of art transcending pain; of the cathartic and ultimately life-affirming power of music.
Though famous for splashy works like the “Sabre Dance” from Gayaneh and the ballet Spartacus, Aram Khachaturian’s late Sonata-Fantasy for Solo Cello came from an altogether different world. Spare in gesture and dour in outlook, it ranks with the late work of his friend and colleague Dmitri Shostakovich. Shaped into a single movement that weaves together influences from Armenian folk and liturgical music, the work is a fascinating look into lesser explored facets of this composer. Cellist Antonio Lysy brought to the work judicious restraint coupled with faultless technical polish that further clarified the work’s structure and writing. His was a quietly intense reading that focused the attention on the composer—and rendered the work all the more expressive.
Standing at the program’s end was Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, op. 80. Composed in the weeks following the death of his sister—and soon to be followed by the composer’s own untimely demise—the quartet has a tragic cast leavened at times with a Schubertian bittersweetness. The performance by the quartet of Dilijan musicians, comprising of Varty Manouelian (1st violin), Movses Pogossian (2nd violin), Paul Coletti (viola), and Lysy, placed the work in context with the late quartets of Beethoven and Schubert. Any notion of Mendelssohn as a “minor master” or second-rate composer was dispelled by their lucid, razor-sharp interpretation. Their reading of the finale had a harrowing power that seemed to forecast the work of Alkan and Mahler. A magnificent performance.
Franz Schubert’s Fantasy in C for Violin and Piano and Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, op. 73 stood at the center of the program like the calm eye of a musical storm.
Violinist Pogossian brought a welcome Viennese warmth to the Schubert piece; his cherubic tone navigating sensitively between the music’s alternating moods of joy and melancholy. In the Schumann piece, Coletti, performing the work in an arrangement of his own devising, played with winsome expressivity that was fully attuned to Schumann’s dreamy character.
Accompanying in both works was pianist Neal Stulberg who was a splendid partner to both. In both works he displayed a keen understanding of the instrumental interplay, while in his solo moments allowing his pearlescent tone to shine through.
An intelligent approach to programming and probing performances are easier said than done. But Dilijan makes it seem deceptively easy. Amidst all the bad news in the past few years of doznes of artistic institutions shuttering, Dilijan stands out as that rare success story. One that will hopefully continue to enrich Southern California in the years to come.