By Ted AYALA
The concerts forming Los Angeles’ “Britten 100” – a celebration of the centenary of Benjamin Britten – will be winding to a close next month with Ruslan Biryukov, the charismatic cellist and founder of the Glendale Philharmonic.
At the centerpiece of a program to be presented at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on Sunday, Dec. 1 will be the English composer’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 65,” which was part of a cycle of cello works dedicated to the great Mstislav Rostropovich, who in turn was a teacher and mentor to Biryukov.
The work’s five movements inhabit a world of infinite midnight: restless, nightmarish, ghoulish, the visions the composer conjures up – the Marcia movement immediately springs to mind – are among the most frightening he ever penned. Yet they, like the composer’s best work, the music remains lucid, cool, in control. It paints its expressions and observes them dispassionately, but never becomes consumed by them. The closing “Moto Perpetuo” seems to hold out a faint sliver of light, but the incessantly grim mechanistic undertow of the piece riddles this optimism with an uncomfortable ambiguity characteristic of the composer’s best work.
Also sharing the program with the Britten is Igor Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, a selection of arrangement for cello and piano of the Russian’s “Pulcinella” – itself an arrangement of music attributed to 18th century composer Giovanni Pergolesi.
Stravinsky once wrote that what he enjoyed most in classical era music was the deep vein of eroticism and humor that cut through even religious works of the era. In “Pulcinella” and the Suite Italienne, the composer soaks in not only the humor of the classical era, but also tweaks its nose further. He spices up his arrangements with unexpected syncopations, rhythms and pungent harmonies that draw the Rococo of the 18th century into an unlikely embrace with the composer’s 1920s Art Deco aesthetic.
Closing the program will be Alexander Arutiunian’s 1974 “Poem.”
Biryukov returns to Glendale on Jan. 5 with the Glendale Philharmonic in a program that includes Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals. Performing the narration will be comedian Emo Phillips.
For tickets and more information on Biryukov’s LACMA recital, please call (323) 857-5234 or visit www.sundayslive.org or www.celloart.com. For more information on the Glendale Philharmonic, visit www.glendalephil.com.