Los Angeles Music Review: LE SALON DE MUSIQUES: LA BELLE ÉPOQUE (Season Four, Concert Seven)

by Tony Frankel on April 29, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


There were two revelations at Le Salon de Musiques’ “La Belle Époque,” the seventh concert of its fourth season: Pianist Steven Vanhauwaert and Ernest Chausson’s Piano Trio in G minor Op. 3.

LE SALON DE MUSIQUES Logo 2First, you must understand that I have been thoroughly spoiled by this premier organization. Helmed by François Chouchan, who selects the pieces that compromise the best chamber music programs in Los Angeles; I have been introduced to works that would shock you knowing of their obscurity in the classical repertoire; I have watched artists of the highest caliber whose playing is made all the more powerful by being a few feet from my seat; I have been spoiled by the expertise of musicologist Julius Reder-Carlson, who introduces each program with pithy and insightful commentary; and I have met fellow music lovers who delight in asking questions of the artists while we share champagne and delicious buffet items served up by Patina.

champagneBut I have never seen and heard at a salon piano playing as transplendent as that of the indefatigable Mr. Vanhauwaert. Certainly he had the heaviest burden as he performed in all nine pieces, but his clarity, restraint, thoughtfulness, tone, character, and unencumbered fingerwork kept me spellbound. He has played for Le Salon in the past, but the program at hand was right up his alley: In an interview with Easy Reader News, Vanhauwaert said: “If I could go back to one period—like Woody Allen in the movie Midnight in Paris—it would be the early 1900s in Paris to see or hear what different kinds of music were there. To me it’s one of the most interesting times because there are so many different styles developing so quickly next to each other.”

LE SALON DE MUSIQUES' LA BELLE ÉPOQUE programEach of the selections on April 6 was chosen to honor the time when Paris was the world stage for innovation, science, technology, and the arts—a city which transformed into the 1889 World’s Fair where The Eiffel Tower was built to serve as the grand entrance. More specifically, the program that took place on the fifth floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion had as a focal point the music of the salons and cafés where both new and old aristocracies melded into a more democratic and peaceful world.

Ernest Chausson page-turning for Debussy at a Luzancy salon in 1893.Reder-Carlson explained that under the auspices of wealth, the air of tolerance and openness at the salons created an atmosphere where many, if not the majority, of participants were gay. Thus, the program began with Reynaldo Hahn, who hung out at the salons and knew everybody. (In 1894, he met aspiring writer Marcel Proust. They shared a love for painting, literature, Fauré, and each other.) Hahn wrote some of the most beautiful songs to emerge from La Belle Époque, and we were treated to five: “Si mes vers avaient des ailes” (1888), set to a poem by Victor Hugo; “D’une prison” (1893), poem by Paul Verlaine; the haunting “Nocturne,” (1893), text by Jean Lahor; the romantic “Le Printemps,” words by Théodore de Banville; and the exquisite “À Chloris,” (1916), text by Theophile de Viau.

The spectacular vocals came courtesy of soprano Hae Ji Chang, who has appeared with LA Opera in Jonah and the Whale, The Magic Flute, and Carmen, among others. Her training in opera was evident here by the strong, assured, and lovely notes, but the sensitivity and emotional shading in these French mélodies belonged to Vanhauwaert, who never drowned out Chang, even with the piano lid open.

Reynaldo HahnLocal violinist Tereza Stanislav, assistant concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, joined Belgian-born Vanhauwaert for Hahn’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in C major (1926). Although written after La Belle Époque, it retains that flavor of a long-gone age before a World War when those affable afternoon salons were ubiquitous; it also contains that unclouded lyricism of Fauré, whom Hahn adored. In the first of three movements, Vanhauwaert brought out the melody of the Sans lenteur at the level of the violin even as the accompaniment remained impeccably pianissimo. Stanislav nailed the fiery aspects of the Veloce, but it was the pianist that captured the charm and longing inherent in this exquisite sonata, minimalizing his pedal technique to create character. Stanislav is always a consummate professional with terrific technique, but she may have overextended her schedule (she left immediately after the concert to play with the Los Angeles Master Chorale across the street at Disney Hall). While she did better when rejoining Vanhauwaert on Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s Ballade for Violin & Piano in C minor, a little more rehearsal was needed.

The Pantoum Trio - Cécilia Tsan, Cello, Steven Vanhauwaert, Piano, and Tereza Stanislav, Violin - with soprano Hae Ji Chang at LE SALON DE MUSIQUES' LA BELLE ÉPOQUE program.French-born cellist Cécilia Tsan came on board with Vanhauwaert for Benjamin Godard’s Two Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 61 (Aubade and Scherzo). Yet again, Chouchan brought an unfamiliar yet immediately captivating piece which, as played by Tsan, seemed more apropos for a concert hall than a salon. Still, the way that Tsan dug into her cello with a gripping, striking, and exceptional technique proffered an unyielding personality and charisma rarely heard.

Ernest+ChaussonAmédée-Ernest Chausson is so obscure that he isn’t mentioned once in two of my classical encyclopedic catalogues. When he died from a freak bicycling accident at the age of 44, he left a relatively small oeuvre comprising an opera, a symphony, some songs and a clutch of chamber works, including one of his earliest, the Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 3 (1881), composed when he was 26. Reder-Carlson explained that while Germany was viewed with ambivalence by France, composers such as Wagner were revered. At the time he wrote the Piano Trio, Chausson, who studied with Massenet and Franck, traveled to Munich to soak up Wagner. Thus, this early work offers a new observation in a musical realm otherwise dominated by German romanticism and French opera. It is a hidden treasure: well-crafted, attractive, romantic, and tender like Franck, and at times positively gothic in the vein of Wagner. The Trio symbolizes a renaissance of idiosyncratically French chamber music propelled by Chausson and his late 19th century compatriots. He not only participated in salons, but he owned them as well. He was also a benefactor and good friend to Debussy. Reder-Carlson was accurate when he told us that “his music is for your pleasure.” Stanislav, Tsan, and Vanhauwaert already have a history as the Pantoum Trio, and they played with all the clarity, vivacity and resonance that the Chausson’s Trio calls for. Vanhauwaert executed the rich and virtuosic piano writing beautifully.

All in all, it was a beautiful era in one afternoon.

Le Salon de Musiques: “La Belle Epoque” (Season Four, Concert Seven)
played on Sunday April 6, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Next concert: Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 4:00 pm
Le Salon de Musiques: “In Search of the Slavic Soul” (Season Four, Concert Eight)
This program highlights genius composers from Eastern Europe.
A. DVOŘÁK: Romance for Violin & Piano in F minor Op 11
A. BORODIN: String Quartet N.2 in D Major
D. SHOSTAKOVITCH:  Piano Quintet in G minor Op 57
Jessica GUIDERI Violin
Roger WILKIE Violin
Shawn MANN Viola
John WALZ Cello
Robert THIES Piano
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 5th Floor
135 N. Grand Avenue
tickets include French Champagne and a gourmet buffet by Patina Catering
for tickets, call (310) 498-0257 or visit www.LeSalondeMusiques.com

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