Twenty-one years ago, pianist and New England Conservatory faculty member Tatyana Dudochkin began an annual tradition of concerts focusing on one, sometimes two, composers in the anniversary year of their birth or death. These concerts have spanned a wide range of composers, from Gershwin (1998) to Czerny (1992) to Rodrigo (2001) to Edward Elgar and Cécile Chaminade (2007). This year’s concert on January 29, organized by Dudochkin and hosted by Ron Della Chiesa, focused on Claude Debussy (1862–1918), for his 150th birthday, and Jules Massenet (1842–1912), marking the centenary of his death. It brought a large audience to Jordan Hall, as usual. Unusual this year was the absence of a blizzard, as Dudochkin wryly remarked. The marathon concert lasted almost three hours and highlighted NEC Preparatory School faculty, NEC Youth Symphony, and distinguished guest artists.
George Li performed with nuanced mastery two pieces from Debussy Préludes, Book II: “Général Lavine – excentrique,” a lively humoresque, and “Feux d’artifice,” alternately meditative and explosive. The concert continued with the second movement (“Interlude: Tempo di minuetto”) and third (“Finale: Allegro moderato ma risoluto”) of Debussy, Sonata for flute, viola, and harp, performed with great sensitivity by Nina Barwell, flute, Rebecca Bogers, harp, & Elisabeth Christensen, viola. This piece has an atypical yet lovely instrumentation; it is fluid and mellow, playing with traditional tonality. Third up, Massenet: Yeghishe Manucharyan, tenor, and the wonderfully sensitive Dudochkin took the stage for the arias “En fermant les yeux (Le rêve)” from Manon and “Pourquoi me réveiller” from Werther, both arias marked by their musical phrasing. Tamara Smirnova, Associate Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, joined Dudochkin for a tender and intense performance of Debussy’s Clair de lune. The dreamscape of Debussy continued with Sam Ou, cello, and Rebecca Bogers, harp, in Reverie, uniting the former’s passion and the latter’s playfulness into a fascinating musical miniature. Timur Rubinshteyn gave a bravura performance of Debussy, Arabesque No.1, Andantino con moto transcribed for marimba; marimba and Debussy make a truly beautiful pairing, especially when performed so magisterially. Mikhail Svetlov, a bass with a dark profondo voice, and Dudochkin offered a sweet and nocturnal take on Massenet’s “Sérénade: Quand apparaissent les étoiles” from Don Quichotte; the duo were joined by Ou for the Elégie from the same opera, making a lovely ensemble. In the Debussy, En blanc et noir, for two pianos, L.134, Dudochkin and Roberto Poli offered a tight and well-matched collaboration, in a work which points towards the later work of Satie. Rounding out the first half of the program was Debussy’s Danse profane, danced by Miriam Izmaylova, Ronen Zinshtain, Julia Rudyak, and Jason Sydorchenko to an unattributed recording; the talented dancers faced an insurmountable challenge in the small size of Jordan Hall’s stage.
Following intermission, the NEC Youth Symphony also populated that stage. Under the direction of Steven Karidoyanes, the tight and responsive ensemble gave a vigorous reading of Debussy, “Nuages” and “Fêtes” from Three Nocturnes. Yuki Beppu, violin, and members of the NEC Concert Choir and Chamber Singers (for the original, wordless chorus) joined the already densely packed stage for Massenet’s “Méditation” from Thaïs. Beppu has an expressive and beautifully singing tone, here highlighted. The singers remained on stage for Massenet, “Je marche sur tous les chemins…. Obéissons, quand leur voix appelle” from Manon, sung by soprano Yelena Dudochkin, who has a full-bodied, supple voice. (She debuted on Opera Boston’s production of The Nose last year and will surely be heard more often in future.) The concert concluded with the NEC Youth Symphony in a spirited reading of Debussy, Marche écossaise, sur un thème populaire; this musical curiosity opens sounding neither Scottish nor like Debussy, although both musical signatures appear in the piece before its end.
Obviously in such a concert, there are lots of stage changes for the different ensembles and combinations of musicians. This is not the first time I have noticed the paucity of stagehands in Jordan Hall. With only two men, changes took time and interrupted the flow of the evening; I hope in future Jordan Hall will have a more appropriate complement of stage-hands, for everyone’s sake.
The concert included some well-known pieces and some rare gems. The performances were marked by a high level of artistry; personal favorites included the Debussy trio sonata (a piece I had not previously heard in concert), Rubinshteyn on marimba, and Yelena Dudochkin singing the aria from Massenet’s Manon. The lengthy concert was a worthy tribute to Debussy and Massenet.