A Mid-Winter Musical Interlude

CoolCleveland.com, February 2009

“M.U.S.i.C. presents a series of unique and always interesting recitals throughout the area”

It would be reasonable to think that most of those in attendance at Sunday’s A Mid-Winter Musical Interlude (presented by M.U.S.i.C.) had never heard a bandoneon in concert. In fact, I’d bet that most of us had never even heard of one. I’d also be willing to bet that those fortunate souls who did hear one (excellently played, by the way) will never forget that experience, and might even go out of their way to hear another one! Especially if the performer was the same Julien Labro. Mr. Labro, who hails from Marseille but currently resides in Detroit — where he’s attending Wayne State University — is a gifted and charming bandoneonist. He not only performed with the other musicians on the program but also presented an introduction to and demonstration of the instrument.

He also played a slightly different version of an accordion than we’re used to hearing, even here in accordion-friendly Cleveland. This one was quite large, and like it’s smaller cousin, had a keyboard resembling that of a typewriter, rather than the more common musical version. It was not exactly a button box, either, since the button-keys were on levers, rather than the push-button type.

The bandoneón is a smaller version, which looked as though (when closed) it would happily occupy a foot-square cube. It has button-keys on both sides.

Anyway, the music that emerged from either instrument was superb. Not unexpectedly, there was music particularly written for these instruments by the great South American composer/bandoneónist, Ástor Piazzolla. Also featured were compositions by the Czech-born Antonín Dvořák, the Spanish Isaac Albániz and the Italian, Luigi Boccherini.

Opening the program were two of Dvořák’s five Bagatelles, Op. 47, featuring three members of the Linden Quartet: Sarah McElravy and Catherine Cosbey, violins, with cellist Felix Umansky and Mr. Labro with accordion. These are very familiar pieces, although they’re usually heard with strings and harmonium or small organ. They worked wonderfully well with the large accordion, however.

Cleveland guitarist Jason Vieaux arranged a piano work by Albániz—the Torre Bermeja (Serenata from Douze Pieces Characteristiques, Op. 92, No. 12)—because he liked it and couldn’t play the piano, he said. That may or may not be exactly accurate, but it sounded terrific.

Mr. Labro’s demonstration of the bandoneón followed, and while he finished with Piazzolla’s Libertango, the beginning music was his own; apt, as he’s currently studying composition.

Piazzolla’s Double Concerto ended the first half of the program. There are several versions of this charming piece: this version featured Mr. Labro, Mr. Vieaux, all 4 members of the Linden, including Eric Wong, viola, and bassist Gerald Torres. After hearing this three movement suite (Introduction, Milonga and Tango) one can entirely appreciate the composer’s comment. “For me,” Astor Piazzolla once said, “tango was always for the ear rather than the feet.”

A further demonstration of that sentiment was displayed in one of his more famous pieces– Histoire du Tango. The four movements tell the history of the tango (in Argentina) as he imagined them at thirty-year intervals. Originally for flute and guitar, this superb performance was with guitar and bandoneón, plus percussion, which was improvised by both players on the bodies of their instruments. Outstanding!

It was the Quintet for Guitar and Strings #4 in D Major by Boccherini for guitar and string quartet that brought the recital to a resounding conclusion. The finale was highlighted by the appearance of Saundra Stavis Bohl, Spanish dancer, elegant in a steel-gray costume with fringed shawl and ruffled skirts, plus of course, fan, castanets, radiant smile and flashing feet!

The enchanted audience requested an encore, which was granted by all the musicians: Piazzolla’s Escualo.

M.U.S.i.C. (Musical Upcoming Stars in the Classics) presents a series of unique and always interesting recitals throughout the area. This one was presented at the acoustically-superb Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development, 19910 Malvern Road in Shaker Heights. To learn of future events, write to stars@intheclassics.org

From Cool Cleveland contributor Kelly Ferjutz artswriter@roadrunner.com
February 10, 2009