Week in Review: Catching Up!

Portrait of the composer as a young woman: Rebecca Clarke.

A series of projects and distractions have kept me away these past few weeks. But time is opening  up to me once more and, mercurial though I am, have returned like an erstwhile lover eager to make up for his prior neglect. 

Late last month I had the pleasure of hearing a Piano Spheres recital where pianists Susan Svrček and Nelson Ojeda-Valdés give a performance of the two-piano arrangement of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring that emphasized the work’s debt to Mussorgsky and Russian folk music:

What was remarkable, though, was how [they] softened the impact of [Stravinsky’s] harmonies. There were moments such as the introductions to Part I or much of Part II that sounded more post-Debussyan than anything else […] The final “Sacrificial Dance” had none of the nihilism, the darkness, even the dread that one is accustomed to hearing in this piece. In [their] hands, one felt that this was a dance of renewal and rebirth as much as of death.

A week later I enjoyed one of those delighful discoveries that François Chouchan, artistic director of Le Salon de Musiques, is so adept at unearthing. 

On a program bookended by the music of Barber and Amy Beach were a pair of opuses by the English composer, Rebecca Clarke—a name I was familiar with, but whose music was not. My loss. 

From the arresting opening bars of [Clarke’s Piano Trio]—with its powerful bass octaves and arpeggios in the piano, the surging figures in the strings—to the very coda of its sardonic finale, [the composer] demonstrated not only a masterly grasp of form and texture, but also an unerring knack for dramatic gesture. Her idiom is brawny and big-fisted, spiked with unexpected harmonic modulations and dissonances that look to Beethoven, Franck, and Ravel while remaining utterly original.

Needless to say, I will eagerly be searching out more of her music. A remarkable and unjustly neglected composer that deserves your attention. 

Click on the links to read my complete reviews of Piano Spheres and Le Salon de Musiques


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