The concert I attended last night was the opening gala for "Bulgarian Concert Evenings in New York." This series is fantastic and most of the concerts are free of charge (donations are welcomed). Of course, being the gala, last night was held in Weill Recital hall at Carnegie. There were no less than five Consular Generals there and even a princess. A real live princess. I was under dressed. Thankfully, I was also seated in the balcony so I was able to hide from the glitterati and enjoy the music in peace.
It was glorious music, beautifully played. In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I was invited to said event by my friend, pianist Anna Stoytcheva who performed on the first half of the program. Friend or no, it was concert full of good old-fashioned great playing.
The program started with Chopin's "Polonaise Brillante for Cello and Piano." My only experience with Chopin and mixed instrumentation is the concertos. Not fun to play. I don't know how they are to listen to, but the orchestra parts are a real throwaway. So it was interesting to hear this, a paired down instrumental mix. I felt the balance between the parts was far more intimate than in the concertos. It was a true dialogue, rather than just a frame for pianistic fireworks.
The second piece on the program was from Pancho Vladigerov; the "Song for Violin and Piano." I was unfamiliar with this composer. The work was haunting, with long glorious melodic lines and a dense harmonic structure. He alluded to folk music without hitting you over the head with it. When the final dissonance resolved, I felt the entire audience exhale in unison. It was very comforting, sharing a quiet calm breath with all of those people.
Next came Smetana's "Piano Trio in G Minor, op.15." My first impression was that Smetana must have been drinking coffee when he wrote this; lots and lots of coffee. It takes off with an incredible amount of energy that never fully goes away. There are some nice lyrical moments, but they still keep moving forward. I particularly enjoyed the second movement. He spent his time digging harmonic holes and then finding a way to climb back out of them again. The third movement tied the whole piece together both thematically and in terms of energy levels. It kept shifting back and forth between tempos. All in all it reminded me of what a fantastic composer he is. Somehow I forget that sometimes.
The second half of the concert was Schumann's "Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, op.44." I've heard this piece performed many times, and it can be a real handful. The tempos are particularly daunting. If you choose the wrong pace the whole thing comes unraveled. Last night they managed to knit together one of those cool Nordic looking sweaters. The tempo choices were spot on. The phrases worked well, particularly in the second movement. It's filled with little silence that they allowed to speak, while still maintaing the melodic contour. Tricky.
I'm looking forward to the rest of this series, particularly March 23rd when Pedro Diaz takes center stage playing the Schumann Romances, the Saint-Seans sonata and the Loeffler Rhapsodies.
By the way, I did take Gracie for a walk in the park yesterday. She made lots of new friends and nearly caught a pigeon. They really aren't the smartest birds. It started to walk right up to her. I'm pleased that I am now both the crazy lady who mutters to herself in the grocery store AND the crazy lady who walks her cat on a leash in the park. My Grandmother would be proud.