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Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Perform Russian Romantic Classics

Soprano Erika Baikoff (L) and pianist Gilles Vonsattel. Photo by Tristan Cook.

At Alice Tully Hall, on Sunday, October 29th, I had the immense privilege to attend a superb concert—presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center—devoted to Russian Romantic music and centered upon that of Sergei Rachmaninoff whose sesquicentennial is being celebrated this year.
The program began beautifully with an admirable account of Anton Rubinstein’s lovely, lyrical “Romance” from Soirées à Saint-Petersbourg for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Op. 44, No. 1, from 1860, which like the Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky piece that followed it, is an epitome of Romanticism—it formed the basis for the composer’s marvelous song setting of Alexander Pushkin’s “Night.” It was performed by the remarkable young violinist Benjamin Beilman along with cellist Clive Greensmith and pianist Gilles Vonsattel.
Even more memorable was a fabulous rendition of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Souvenir d’un lieu cher (Memory of a dear place) for Violin and Piano, Op. 42, from 1878, played by Beilman and Vonsattel. The opening Méditation movement is also song-like and characteristically plaintive, while the ensuing Scherzo is propulsive, virtuosic and sprightly, with a contrasting Trio that is especially enchanting. In thefinale,entitled Mélodie, a sentiment of longing can be discerned but there is nonetheless a joyousness throughout it.
Vonsattel returned to accompany the extraordinary young soprano, Erika Baikoff—who looked gorgeous in a stunning silver and white gown—for an exquisite set of songs. They started with Mily Balakirev’s fine “The Goldfish’s Song” from 1860, which is set to a text from the poem Mtsyri by the major nineteenth-century Russian writer, Mikhail Lermontov. Also excellent was Modest Mussorgsky’s “Where are you little star?” originally composed in 1857 but heard here in its 1860s revision. More theatrical was Rachmaninoff’s Pushkin setting, “Arion,” Op. 34, No. 5, from 1912, described as “an allegory of the 1825 Decembrist revolt.” Their version of Mikhail Glinka’s “The Lark,” the tenth song from his 1840 cycle,A Farewell to Saint Petersburg,was simply glorious. Also terrific was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “It wasn't the wind, blowing from up high”—from his 1897In Spring, Op. 43, No. 2—set to a poem by Aleksei Tolstoy. They finished strongly with Rachmaninoff’s 1896 “These Summer Nights,” Op. 14, No. 5.
The second half of the program was also impressive, consisting of a superior realization of the same composer’s imposing Trio élégiaque in D minor for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Op. 9—originally written in 1893 and revised in 1917—an hommage to Tchaikovsky with the dedication, “I memory of a great artist,” and modeled on the latter’s Op. 50 trio. The initial Moderato is lugubrious but with powerful, dramatic outbursts; the closing section has a dreamy quality. The middle movement, a theme-and-variations, canvasses a diverse array of moods, and the finale has an Allegro risoluto introduction of exceptional intensity with much of this emotionalism sustained across the length of the movement, concluding with an unforgettable pianissimo chord.
The musicians received deserved and enthusiastic applause.

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