May 3, 2012 - Twilight Rapture: Evening of Vocal and Piano Duets at the Austrian Embassy, Washington, DC

'Russian Chamber Art Society'

The Austrian Embassy had previously hosted Russian Chamber Art Society performances, generally featuring works of Russian composers. This past Thursday as a thank you to the Austrian Embassy, Vera Danchenko-Stern the Artistic Director of the society, offered selections of German romantic masterpieces as well in a program entitled ‘Twilight Rapture’. The event attracted numerous high-profile people, such as the wife of the Ambassador of the Russian Federation.

The first part of the concert started with Felix Mendelssohn which featured Belorussian soprano Irina Mozyleva, American mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock, and Vera Danchenko-Stern, who performed four duets from Six Duets for soprano and mezzo-soprano, Opus 63. Although the singers had extremely different voices (Irina Mozyleva has a light, airy soprano with a nice ring in her voice, while Audry Babcock’s mezzo-soprano was of a dark, creamy quality), yet blended very well together, creating interesting overtones. The German diction of the artists was quite good, which resulted in a more nuanced reading. Following was Franz Schubert’s Fantasia for Piano Four Hands Opus 103, with Vera Danchenko-Stern and Genadi Zagor. The work while quite difficult, presented few obstacles for the freshly minted pianist duo who exhibited excellent ensemble technique as though they had performed for decades together. Concluding the first half were four further duets for soprano and mezzo-soprano, this time Johannes Brahms’ Opus 61. By this point the artists were relaxed and interacted dramatically throughout this selection. Vera Danchenko-Stern accompanied thoughtfully, almost transparently, yet showed great expressivity during moments of vocal rest.

After a brief intermission, a Washington DC debut of two rare Valery Gavrilin works entitled 'The Evening', and 'Sketches' were performed. The Evening was semi-staged, with each vocal duet focusing on a little episode of life taken from the diary of an elderly woman who is looking back at an early love. This work is reminiscent of traditional Russian folk music stamped very distinctly by Gavrilin’s style. To close the evening, Genadi Zagor joined Vera Danchenko-Stern once again on the piano for Sketches, a piano cycle for four hands. The music reminded somewhat of Georgy Sviridov’s palette in the lyrical pieces, and Dmitry Shostakovich’s sharp satirical humor in the gregarious ones. Both pianists gave an expressively virtuoso performance of these genre miniatures, invoking distinctive colours to each piece.

The evening was one to be remembered, given the expansive performances of all the artists involved. The Russian Chamber Art Society is largely resident in the Washington DC area, however a performance tour throughout the United States is under consideration., Kadaner


…The audience was taken by the extraordinary performance and gave standing ovations after the concert.

The Russian Chamber Art Society presented an elegant and nicely balanced concert… Titled “Twilight Rapture,” the program consisted of music by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Brahms and the contemporary Russian composer Valery Gavrilin (1939-1999)…

The first part of the evening opened with a set of duets by Mendelssohn for soprano (Irina Mozyleva), mezzo (Audrey Babcock), and piano (Danchenko-Stern), Op. 63, and concluded with Brahms’ Four Duets, Op. 61, for the same ensemble….

Often dramatizing the song texts with cogent gestures, the singers indulged in expressive nuances with clear German diction (to my American ears) and underscored the songs’ emotions with subtlety and character…

Mozyleva and Babcock gave the Washington premiere of Gavrilin’s cycle “The Evening,” revealing especially the tone of coy reminiscence pervading all five songs. The two pianists also offered a rousing version of Gavrilin’s entertaining eight-part “Sketches,” outlining its generous amounts of tongue-in-cheek humor.

Between the Mendelssohn and Brahms settings, Danchenko-Stern and fellow pianist Genadi Zagor gave a moving account of Schubert’s turbulent Fantaisie, Op. 103. The performers conveyed the composer’s often-violent contrasts between sections of mournful, sometimes angry resignation and gentle wistfulness, framing the two moods with Schubert’s distinctive and meaningful silences.

The Washington Post, Cecelia Porter