The “Rising Stars” at Shalin Liu Performance Center Sunday, as Rockport Chamber Music Festival’s Artistic Director David Deveau described them, were three recent winners of the Concert Artists Guild International Competition, which has launched the careers of countless major artists over the past 50 years. Deveau himself, has adjudicated this competition.
Though the finely designed seascape space was a little less than filled, this should nevertheless be considered a strong turnout for the up-and-coming musicians, as well as a tribute to Deveau’s outreach. Mischa Bouvier, baritone, Jay Campbell, cello, and Daria Rabotkina, piano, all competition winners—and rightly so—put together a program quite unlike most. Songs of Bowles, Rachmaninoff, and Ives preceded Wuorinen and a Stravinsky work arranged for cello and piano. Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite for solo piano rounded out the “Russian-American” outing. Also deviating from norms were the additional piano accompanists, Yegor Shevtsov and Jacob Greenberg. There was lots of talent and training to behold.
Paul Bowles’ Blue Mountain Ballads are some of the most moving American songs around. Program annotator, Sandra Hyslop, zeroed in on the fact that the Bowles’ songs “suggest the atmosphere and culture of the playwright’s rural south.” In Mischa Bouvier’s rich baritone voice, the words of Tennessee Williams found that South, albeit in a somewhat cosmopolitan cloak. Four Charles Ives songs also were absolutely welcome fare on this program. “The Circus Band,” “Tom Sails Away,” and “Memories” are the less often heard, “The Cage” being more familiar. Again, Bouvier adapted his refined artistry—this time to back home Americana yielding a musical fusion of sorts. Between the Americans came “In the Silence of the Secret Night” of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Its Russian atmosphere, its culture and Bouvier were an even better match. Accompanist Yegor Shevtsov played more than a supporting role recognizing music’s outbreaks of loveliness as well as tension. He also sees in detail.
After learning about Jay Campbell, his awards, his collaborations with Takacs and Kronos quartets as well as members of Radiohead, hearing the young cellist play, made perfect sense. The only reason that Charles Wuorinen’s 1999 An Orbicle of Jasp for cello and piano had any deeper meaning was on account of Campbell, who played the eight-minute atonal-bent note-web from memory. That means, he was also something to watch, and that means, in turn, we could see more of what he was hearing. (It was not easy to see every performer with the afternoon’s summer sunlight streaming through the big window.) While Campbell journeyed colorfully and expansively, even vividly, through thick and thin, Jacob Greenberg objectified Wuorinen’s matrices rewarding each with sharp-edged percussiveness.
What entertainment Igor Stravinsky can provide! One immediately senses something is askew as the Minuet from Suite Italienne begins. Only moments later, the Russian icon of the 20th century cleverly skirts the first cadence, and before you know it, that great master of the serious and the not so serious has turned old fare into new—and very much his own. Campbell’s cello shone delightfully with an abundance of tlc. The Finale’s robustness and technical flare filled the hall; however, the piano accompaniment was often a bit too hefty. The arrangement of the suite is by the Russian giant, Gregor Piatigorsky. Upon learning only as I write this review that Campbell is First Prize Winner of the Concert Artists Guild International Competition, I find myself not surprised.
Russian born prize winner Daria Rabotkina conquered the Romeo and Juliet Suite by displaying prodigious power in ten movements of piano pyrotechnics. Rabotkina’s approach is that of the early 21st-century rage—all that is big, driven and outward, if not outsized. There was little letup during the half-hour-plus suite Prokofiev fashioned from the original 52 numbers in the ballet.
Big applause and standing ovation had Rabotkina back for an encore, “Hill Springs Rag,” by her husband, William McNally (if I heard correctly). The performance was on the “wet” side suggesting the influence of recording studio reverberation. In minor mode in a slower tempo, this rag provided real contrast to the Prokofiev especially via its Americanism and its kinder, gentler feel.