in: Reviews

November 7, 2014

New Quartet Launched at French Cultural Center

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The Rêve d’Amour (Dream of Love) quartet made a strong debut in Boston last night with a program of rarely heard romantic chamber music performed in the elegant but cozy surroundings of the French Cultural Center. A rapt audience of about 30 Francophiles crowded into the center’s reading room for the event.

This new group, made up of four “passionate” women (their term), have performed in various combinations for several years but came together for the first time on Thursday, and now intend to make an impact as a permanent quartet in the Boston area. All the players are from Boston and environs.

Their initial performance focused on French songs and instrumental pieces that drew out the impressive, lyrical talents of cellist Rebecca Hartka, pianist Barbara Lysakowski, soprano Jessica Rossi and flute/piccolo player Mana Washio. The combination provided a kind of magic.

Leading the audience through this unfamiliar repertoire, the women introduced each work with a historical overview and offered some tips on what to listen for. The romance turned to passion in some of the songs. Leading off with Maurice Ravel’s Chansons Madécasses, Rossi’s powerful soprano evoked the explicit feelings of French poet Evariste Desiré de Forges, vicomte de Parny, in French. The translation was unavailable in the program but here is a taste:

Catch your breath, my young sweetheart;
rest on my lap.
How enchanting your gaze is,
how lively and delightful the motion of your breast
as my hand presses it!
You smile, oh beautiful Nahandove!

Your kisses reach into my soul;
our caresses burn all my senses.
Stop or I will die!
an one die of ecstasy?
Oh beautiful Nahandove!

A second song in the cycle, Aoua, opened with ominous, crashing chords from pianist Lysakowski, and proceeded on a calmer note to conclude with Il est doux.

The group takes its name from an eponymous song by Gabriel Fauré, which Rossi performed exquisitely. Fauré was a master of mélodie, and was credited in his lifetime with saving the French song from domination by the Lied. Other Fauré works on the program were Au bord de l’eau and Aurore.

The obligatory Debussy contribution to the evening was his late and engaging Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Minor, from 1915. With Lysakowski’s piano on an equal footing with Hartka’s cello, the two women dueled their way through this very offbeat offering. A long passage in the second movement calls for extensive plucking and guitar-like strumming, unique in the cello repertoire, as the piano bounced along in sync. It was a delightful romp.

Un rêve d'amour by Franceso Vinea

Un rêve d’amour by Franceso Vinea

Flute player Washio took the only solo turn of the evening, performing Debussy’s short, popular, sinuous, Syrinx, a popular piece that showed the way forward for modern flute solo writing.

The biggest surprise of the evening was Nadia Boulanger’s stunning Three Pieces for Cello and Piano. Few in the audience would have been familiar with these intriguing short movements. Hartka was openly pleased to present it and told me afterward, “I take particular interest in finding hidden gems.”

As these four women polish their interpretations, they will surely rein in Rossi large soprano for intimate venues and perhaps devote a solo piano turn to Lysakowski. A Ravel or Debussy piano solo would have fit in nicely with this program.

Michael Johnson is a former Moscow correspondent who writes on music for the International Herald Tribune, Clavier Companion, and other publications. He divides his time between Bordeaux and Brookline.

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