Liszt marathon is strong from start to finish
It’s probably impossible to feature all of Franz Liszt’s facets on one program, but Tatyana Dudochkin made a valiant effort. The artistic director of New England Conservatory Preparatory School’s annual Composer Anniversary Celebrations gathered enough strands of Liszt’s genius to fuel Sunday night’s marathon, kicking off the composer’s bicentennial year.
Liszt was many things; boring wasn’t among them.
In opening remarks, emcee Ron Della Chiesa tallied up Liszt’s categories: celebrity, virtuoso, innovator, inspiration. Chamber works heralded the latter: the “Première Élégie,’’ for the sensuous combination of cello (Sam Ou), harp (Rebecca Bogers), piano (Dudochkin), and organ (Constantine Finehouse), sounded like the missing link between Wagner’s “Tristan’’ and Fauré’s “Requiem’’; the “Romance Oubliée,’’ with Ou and Dudochkin in another impassioned performance, similarly triangulated between, say, Chopin and Puccini.
The NEC Youth Camerata, directed by Beth Willer, featured Liszt the church musician, choral settings both austere (Racine’s “L’Eternel est son nom’’) and sweet (a gently appointed “Ave Maria’’). Liszt the dramatist emerged in lieder sung by mezzo-soprano Victoria Avetisyan and tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan, especially the stark, unaccompanied ending of Manucharyan’s “Comment disaient-ils’’ and the full-blown operatic breadth of Avetisyan’s “Der du von dem Himmel bist.’’
Naturally, there was Liszt the virtuoso. Dudochkin and Sergey Schepkin offered Liszt’s four-hand arrangement of his greatest hit, the “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2,’’ a fleet, fun rendition full of the pointedly casual understatement a canny actor might use for Hamlet’s equally familiar soliloquies. And a distinguished guest, the Ukranian-American pianist Mykola Suk, brought further thespian expertise to the “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12’’: big splashes of color, no small amount of sparkle, and a sense of timing to do any showman proud.
The NEC Youth Orchestra, conducted by Steven Karidoyanes, took the stage for the second half. In “Les Préludes,’’ the group’s rustling energy rose to a grand conclusion, capturing the sort of sincere flashiness that was Liszt’s gift to Hollywood. The composer’s setting of Heine’s “Die Lorelei’’ had its sinuous moments, though soprano Yelena Dudochkin was a less than seductive siren, blanketing the tale in a monochromatic, aggressive vocal color.
But the finale was a magnificent, macabre marvel: “Totentanz,’’ Liszt’s over-the-top dance-of-death theme and variations. Suk returned as piano soloist, scrupulously exploiting a formidable palette of touch and mood; the orchestra followed suit, playing with serious flair. The performance did justice to both the music’s ridiculous ingenuity and its ingenious ridiculousness. For Liszt, creativity and flamboyance were symbiotic.
Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.