By Ted AYALA
“Not here”, the attendant at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s will-call window told me. Walk downstairs. Find the gold elevator; take it to the 5th floor. It took a bit of searching, but the elevator was finally found in a well-hidden side area of the Pavilion. As I waited for the elevator to arrive some more people arrived, some alone, others in pairs or in groups of three; all of them with the same slightly confused, but expectant expression. A bell rings, the elevator doors open. We crowd in. Finally the bell rings again. We’ve arrived. The doors open to reveal a narrow hallway, lined with mirrors and gold colored décor. An air of being on the cusp of some supernatural revelation envelops us as we silently walk to our destination only a few feet away.
Just where are we headed anyway?
Only a few floors above from where the Los Angeles Opera was performing Mozart’s Don Giovanni, another—arguably more interesting—musical performance was about to take place.
The first concert in the new season of the Le Salon de Musiques chamber series was about to begin. Part of the bumper crop of chamber music offerings that Southern California has been awash in the past few years, Le Salon de Musiques carves out its niche by focusing on music by 19th century composers who are better known for their obscurity than for their music. Franz Xaver Scharwenka, Juliusz Zarębski, Camillo Schumann (no relation to that other Schumann), Sergei Lyapunov—composers whose names often survive only as dusty footnotes in the pages of musical history are in this chamber series brought to life; their music carefully and lovingly reexamined.
It was that adventuring spirit that animated Le Salon’s Sunday afternoon recital, its program consisting of two chamber music gems from Tsarist Russia.
Leading the proceedings was a bubbly chip from Mikhail Glinka, the “Father of Russian Music.” His Serenade on Themes by Bellini for Piano Sextet captured the composer in sunny mood; exuding a mellow Mediterranean warmth that reminded the listener of Stravinsky’s remark about Glinka being a “kind of Russian Rossini.”
On the other side of the program was Sergei Lyapunov’s mighty Piano Sextet. A four-movement work composed in shortly before the Russian Revolution (and barely receiving its American premiere at the recital), its muscular, symphonic proportions mask the music’s fragile heart; made all the more poignant by the whirlwinds of history that would eventually swallow the composer’s country, forcing him into exile. This was especially true of the sprightly dancing Scherzo and the luxurious Nocturne that followed. This was music firmly rooted in the past, in the world of Tchaikovsky and Borodin, in the fading aura of the civility of Russia’s aristocracy.
For the performers—Roger Wilkie and Sarah Thornblade (1st and 2nd violins), Brian Dembow (viola), Ron Leonard (cello), Nico Abondolo (contrabass), and Gavin Martin (piano)—the performance wasn’t merely a archeo-musicological exhumation, but rather an act of devotion. Their performance exulted in the music’s richness of melody and expression. “This is music that matters,” they seemed to tell their audience. Indeed there was no doubting them at the program’s close. Tucked away as it is in the shadow of other musical organizations, there is something about Le Salon de Musique that has a whiff of secret treasure. And a treasure it is; a brightly and highly distinguished gem in Southern California’s already glimmering chamber music crown.