“Classical Comes to America”, CoolCleveland.com, June 7, 2009

“The concept of immigrant composers was unique, Bravo to the performers and M.U.S.i.C. for a great idea!”

M.U.S.i.C. @ Hanna Perkins Center 6/7

Not all the music featured on this recital Sunday afternoon was composed in America, but regardless of country of origin, the composers represented certainly altered the musical landscape of our country once they arrived here. M.U.S.i.C. and the Hanna Perkins Center in Shaker Heights combined for an interesting look at (and listen to) music by a handful of immigrant composers.

During the first half of the 20th century, immigration to this country reached many peaks, but none more eventful than the many artists who fled their native countries to find liberty and freedom—and even life!—in America. The seven composers represented on this program were: Russians Sergei Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinsky; Austrians Fritz Kreisler and Arnold Schoenberg, and from France came Darius Milhaud, Erich Wolfgang Korngold was Czech, and Kurt Julian Weill was German. Some of the music was familiar while some of it was new to our ears; however, it was all beautifully performed.

Beginning the program was a delightful piano duet (both performers at the same piano) from his Opus 11 by Rachmaninoff. Eri Nakamura and John Simmons performed the three short pieces with greatelánWaltzTheme Russe and Slava. A feeling of spontaneity wafted through the sprightly waltz andSlavaTheme Russe was indeed very Russian, and familiar to many in the large audience through its use by other composers.

Soprano Jung Eun Oh was the lustrous-voiced soprano in five songs by Rachmaninoff, although dating from later in his career. John Simmons was her attentive collaborator at the piano for In My Garden at NightTo HerDaisiesA Dream, and A-oo! Variously romantic or dramatic, each brief song was given a lyrical and expressive performance. Ms. Oh’s Russian certainly sounded authentic, while translations were provided.

Again assisted by Mr. Simmons, tenor Steven Ebel demonstrated German lieder by two vastly different composers: Erich Korngold and Arnold Schoenberg. Yet, the two songs by Korngold – Was du mir bist and Mit dir zu Schweigen as well as Schoenberg’s Deinem Blick mich ze bequemenwere filled with longing and wistfulness. Mr. Ebel’s voice was well suited to the demands of the music, whether light-hearted or dramatic, especially in the upper registers.

As might be expected from a French composer, Darius Milhaud’s Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Pianowas by turns classical, humorous and jazzy during its four movements. Pianist Eri Nakamura was joined for this work by violinist Timothy Kantor and Stanislav Golovin on clarinet. Beginning with an introductory type Ouverture played very fast, next was a Divertissement in which the violin and clarinet chased each other up and down scales before joining together with each other and the piano. Jeu(game) featured plucked violin with clarinet and no piano at all, before the very French and jazzy sounding Introduction et Final. The three young musicians, all from CIM, received a warm ovation for their efforts.

Another early work of Rachmaninoff was his cello sonata, Op. 19. Erica Snowden produced a gorgeous big and lush sound from her cello in the Andante movement, which was highly melodic in nature. She was partnered by pianist John Simmons.

Ms. Nakamura and Mr. Kantor returned for three lighter-than-air pieces by Fritz Kreisler. The famous violinist is reputed to have composed these works primarily as encore pieces for his own concerts, so it was delightful to hear them as concert works. Mr. Kanter’s technique was more than capable of handling the virtuosic demands required by LiebesfreudLiebesleid, and Tambourin Chinoise. You might not recognize the music by name, but after only several notes of each, the audience collectively sighed (gently) in happy recognition, and after the final piece, extended and appreciative applause.

Ms. Oh returned for a piece she does exquisitely, and which is by way of becoming a standard for her. Stravinsky’s The Nightingale Aria depicts various moods of love—joy, pain and tenderness—in beautiful lyricism. The extended, unaccompanied portion was delicate and perfectly on pitch. Mr. Simmons was the gentle collaborator. Without much pause, they then embarked on Kurt Weill’s Je ne t’aime pa, a slight repudiation of the loved one. (Take away your hand, I don’t love you, my beloved.) Ms. Oh incorporated a slightly world-weary effect and beautiful French pronunciation to great effect.

With only a slight pause, Mr. Ebel returned for Weill’s bluesy-influenced Lonely House, before the addition of Ms. Oh for We’ll Go Away Together. The two singers provided a small bit of drama as they came together, separated and re-joined, again with Mr. Simmons.

The concept of music by immigrant composers was unique, and the execution of it reflected the universality of musical language. Bravo to the performers and M.U.S.i.C. for a great idea! To be added to the mailing list for future such programs, send an e-mail to: stars@intheclassics.org

From Cool Cleveland contributor Kelly Ferjutz artswriter@roadrunner.com