Tanya Anisimova, cello; Daria Scarano, piano
First Presbyterian Church, Virginia Beach.
In a program that might have been titled "August Franchomme (1808-1884) and his friends," cellist Tanya Anisimova and pianist Daria Scarano played a beautiful recital in Virginia Beach. We heard music by Mendelssohn, Chopin and Franchomme.
To set the romantic mood, Ms. Scarano opened the evening with Franz Liszt's (1811-1886) Les Cloches de Genève (the Bells of Geneva) for solo piano from Années de Pèlerinage I. Suisse 9 (1848-1854). The quiet opening drew us in and was followed by accelerated tempos and a variety of colors that built in intensity, only to retreat to soft bell tones.
"Forever Young" refers to the fact that both Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Fréderic Chopin (1810-1849) did not live to see forty. Franchomme, the leading French cellist of his day, formed a happy admiring friendship with Mendelssohn when he visited Paris in 1831 and was also a close friend of Chopin who rewrote his Opus 3 cello part for Franchomme.
Both Ms. Anisimova and Ms. Scarano attended the Moscow Central School of Music of the State Tchaikovsky Conservatory when young. Ms. Anisimova continued her studies at Boston University and Yale University. Ms. Scarano, at the age of eight, was chosen to give a special performance for the royal Romanov family in Moscow. At age fifteen she was admitted to the University of Maryland School of Music where she gained her bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. Both are well-traveled, prize-winning freelance soloists who have built successful careers in chamber and orchestral music around the world. Both have been recorded and praised for their playing.
Late in his life, around 1845, Mendelssohn composed Song without Words. There are tears in the opening notes and the cello is the voice in this cantilena, lyrical melody. It was Franchomme who advanced the elegant, smooth, light French bow technique that we heard. The Mendelssohn Cello Sonata, No.2, Op. 58 in D major that followed was written by him for his brother Paul, a cellist. The opening surging, confident melody is underpinned by a pressing piano accompaniment. The piano then takes over and the cello accompanies, though as the piece unfolds, they are treated as equals. The whimsical piano tune in the second movement is quickly taken up by pizzicato cello. In the second theme the cello achieves deep songfulness before it turns gruff, though in the ending they play fragments of both melodies. The leisurely pacing of the third movement piano arpeggios come before the cello offers a soulful aria that achieves the sound of a bass voice with very low notes. The lengthy fourth movement finale begins with rousing energy. The instruments offer accelerating arduous runs creating a dazzling, mad romp.
After a brief intermission Ms. Anisimova returned to play Franchomme's Étude for solo cello in B minor that offered a Romantic filter of Bach-like constructions that had an emotional transparency. It was light-weight music, reminiscent of contemporary easy listening.
The last piece was dedicated to Franchomme by his close friend Fréderic Chopin. His Sonata Op. 65 in G minor (1845-46) for cello and piano was premiered in Paris (1847) to great acclaim in what was to be the last performance of Chopin's career. There is a balance of equal material for the cello and piano. The dramatic and long first movement has a rising and falling half-step cello motive that opens the lush second movement with its folksy scherzo and tarantella finale. The Largo, third movement declared a "jewel" by Ms. Anisimova has a beautifully flowing melody. The Finale Allegro has a surprising richness of low cello notes, fleet but with a certain sense of melancholy.
Chopin composed the cello part and then fitted the piano part to it. The results are uncharacteristic of his natural piano idiom because he was trying to follow a Germanic sonata form. The playing was inspired and the audience responded enthusiastically with a standing ovation.
The encore was an improvisation with a sustained sound that built into what could be characterized as Gypsy soul.
Artsong Update. Virginia Beach, VA, May, 2014
Review by John Campbell