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Gold Medal Winner Hakhnazaryan: a Hero’s Welcome


“Season of Piano Quintets” was set in motion by the Boston Chamber Music Society on October 16 at Sanders Theatre with the first Boston performance by cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan since winning the Gold Medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition (which he did just after graduating from New England Conservatory this past June). The young man walked out on stage with shiny black shoes, black trousers, and a white shirt not tucked in. He took a moment to roll up the sleeve on his left arm. He began and as he played he appeared to lose himself completely in the music. Apparently, music is second nature to him. (Note BMint’s article, “From NEC to Tchaikovsky Victory: Narek Hakhnazaryan” here.)

It very could well have been called a hero’s welcome. It was obvious that the BCMS audience immediately recognized his total engagement in performing one of Schumann’s favorite chamber pieces, Fantasiestücke, Opus 73. Under his astute purview, these three fantasy movements achieved unexpected depth, not in a dream-like way but rather by way of remarkable understanding. Phrase by phrase, Hakhnazaryan moved forward in a thoroughly tangible, clean interpretation with an understanding born of a distinct youthfulness in the music with which this young cellist identified in a most “direct” manner. In Lebhaft, leicht (lively, light), as the second movement is marked, Hakhnazaryan zipped, never looking back, always looking forward, maybe a moment here or there to reflect. Surely from my vantage point he never once flirted with Romantic daydreaming. His sound had degrees of richness, fineness, muteness and flair—the complete bundle! In this heroic show Narek was abetted, supported and partnered by the attentive and dramatic playing of pianist Mihae Lee. Celebrating her birthday last night, Mihae contributed her experience of many performances of the Schumann with BCMS founder, Ron Thomas.

Violinist Jennifer Frautschi, Hakhnazaryan, and pianist Mihae Lee had teamed up for Mozart’s Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502 to open the program for Boston Chamber Music Society’s twenty-ninth consecutive season. Their impeccable playing of the trio, though, could not conceal a certain flatness in expression.

Roger Tapping’s viola was another highlight of the program. A most natural singing overlaid a concentration on syntax—an “I have arrived” feeling coupled with a sense of “I get it.” His is an enlightening musicality. He figured prominently in Four Poems for Mezzo, Viola, and Piano, Op. 15 (1905) by the American composer Charles Loeffler. Though a bit too slow and spacious, Loeffler’s songs on French poems nevertheless show deep affection for French Impressionist harmonies. An American contemporary of Loeffler also influenced by French Impressionism was Charles Griffes, who was keen enough to remove a good deal of the perfumery that Loeffler delighted in.

Featured in the Four Poems, guest mezzo-soprano Krista River summoned timbres matching those of Tapping’s viola. It was a pure sonic treat. Perhaps the steady quarter-note rhythms of Loeffler’s composition were in fact the underlying cause for the single-note emphasis that dominated much of River’s singing. As a result, melodic shaping laden with such note-by-note accenting was questionable.

Yet another performer who caught my ear was violinist Ida Levin who, like Tapping, instinctively found deep personal connotations in Sophia Gubaidulina’s youthful Piano Quintet of 1957. Levin, along with Tapping and Hakhnazaryan, fired up the BCSM quintet in a rip-roaring performance. Disparate attitudes as to the enunciation and influences of the Russian score surfaced; I detected shades of Prokofiev in her 30-minute work. Yet, where Prokofiev’s mind is quicksilver, Gubaidulina’s early quintet played on extended textures—if at times naively so, this to be expected.

Hats off to Boston Chamber Music Society on its 29th consecutive season!

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in  Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.

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