BWW Review: 'FRENCH IMPRESSIONS' WITH THE CALIDORE STRING QUARTET and the ASPECT CHAMBER MUSIC SERIES at Bohemian National Hall
The Bohemian National Hall in New York City is far from any major concert halls in Manhattan, tucked away as it is in a far corner of the Upper East Side, but it has a secret: a beautiful concert hall all its own. Hidden away in the Czech Consulate is a lovely room, a ballroom with fine acoustics, and on February 27, 2020 it was the setting for a fascinating evening of chamber music and learning presented by the ASPECT Foundation.
The ASPECT Chamber Music Series presents concerts in an unusual format, one which transforms (according to their literature) "the traditional recital into an intimate, engaging and thought-provoking blend of performance, speech and image." Where most concerts go for breadth, these performances go for depth. Each concert has a theme, and tonight's was "French Impressions." The evening showcased the work of two composers working in France primarily in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and his friend, the less well-known Ernest Chaussson (1855-1899). Impressionism was first a movement in the visual arts, as we learned from remarks presented by the young actor Samuel Adams. Artists Edward Manet, Pierre Renoir, and Claude Monet were attempting something bold and new with their art, to create visuals that expressed feelings and emotions rather than well-delineated portraits or photograph-like images. Debussy disliked the term when it was applied to him by some faculty members at the Paris Conservatoire, but (unfortunately for him)it stuck.
The artists with whom ASPECT works are not insignificant. Gilles Vonsattel, the pianist who opened the evening with Debussy's brief L'Isle Joyeuse, is a Naumberg and Geneva competition winner, as well as the recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant. Mr.Vonsattel approached L'Isle Joyeuse with real joy and abandon. The piano sound was oddly a little muffled for a Steinway B. Perhaps he could have used a little less damper pedal because some of the scale-like passages were a bit too blurry, but overall it was an excitingly performed piece and a great start to the concert.
Grace Park was the evening's featured violin soloist. Winner of the 2018 Naumberg International Violin Competition, Ms. Park is a dedicated chamber musician as well as a fine soloist. Debussy's Violin and Piano Sonata in G minor was his last compositional effort before his untimely death from cancer in 1918. Ms.Park and Mr. Vonsattel shaped each phrase with beauty and sensitivity, each part being the equal of the other. It was this piece that begged the question of what Debussy's music would have been like had he not died when he did. It's the $64,000 question of composition.
The final piece on the program was Ernest Chausson's magnificent and rarely heard Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet Op.21. Chausson is another example of the big "what if" of classical music. Dying in a bicycle accident at the age of 44, he left the world a small body of music which might easily have become much larger. This tiny concerto, a 40 minute work for only six instruments, gives us a glimpse of what might have been. Mr. Vonsattel's sensitive playing never overwhelmed the other players yet couldn't have been considered mere accompaniment. Ms. Park, also demonstrating great sensitivity to the music, played her beautifully articulated part with understanding and elegance. The Calidore String Quartet (Jeffrey Myers, violin; Ryan Meehan, violin; Jeremy Berry, viola, and Estelle Choi, cello) which is also a recipient of a 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant and the 2017 Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists, played with very focused, tight ensemble. They were one with Ms. Park and with Mr. Vonsattel, and while it was wonderful to see Mr. Myers smiling with the sheer enjoyment of playing, it was Ms. Choi who was an absolute joy to watch. Her ecstatic happiness was certainly reflected in her performance. She was the heart and soul of this outstanding group, even in the more somber moments of the piece.
ASPECT will present four more concerts this season. Three will be held at the Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd St. and one will be performed at the Italian Academy at Columbia University, 1161 Amsterdam Ave. Another perfectly lovely touch at all concerts is the wine and cheese reception prior to and sometimes after the concert. Since both halls are small, audience size is limited and it is possible to mix and mingle with the artists after the concerts as well. Ticket prices are most reasonable.
For more information and tickets go to www.aspectmusic.net or call 917-900-6657.