April 11, 2014 - Pushkin in Music at the Embassy of Austria, Washington, DC

'Russian Chamber Art Society Celebrates Pushkin'

The Russian Chamber Art Society triumphed in a concert at the Austrian Embassy in a program dedicated to the theme of "Pushkin in Music."Celebrating the 215th anniversary of Alexander Pushkin’s birth and the greati nfluence he had on the Russian Art song, pianist Vera Danchenko-Stern, director of the Russian Chamber Art Society, assembled a dynamic group of artists, including soprano Yana Eminova, baritone Carl Ratner, and Shakespearean actor Floyd King for this masterful performance. In addition to the brilliant poetry reading by Floyd King, the program included songs by composers N. Medtner, C. Cui, G. Sviridov, S. Prokofiev, A. Glazunov, A. Vlasov, Y. Falik and D. Shostakovich.

Opening the program, King’s dramatic recitation of “A Wonderous Moment I Remember” was accompanied by Danchenko-Stern’s richly textured and mellifluous performance, not only evoking the grief and “angst” of Pushkin’s words, but also giving the heart inspiration with “the spark of God.” The longing for love and burning sadness appear to be a constant theme of Pushkin’s poems, yet in the end, both the music and poetry evoke the wondrous passion and hope that love can bestow. In particular, Danchenko-Stern’s and Eminova’s rendition of “Night” with music by Anton Rubinstein intensely captures that passion.

Eminova demonstrated her superb command of the music in Glazunove’s “Delia” with great musicality and a masterful control of vocal dynanics. Similarly, in composer Sviridov’s work, “October 19th,” Carl Ratner’s rich timbre and vocal color evoked the pathos and sadness that characterizes so many of the Russian Art Songs.

Russian musicologist Nikolay Findenstein has commented that "For a long time Russian society was satisfied with ingenious muse of its poets .....Then Pushkin began to write, as if carving his verse out of marble or granite or molding it of bronze and silver. Only in him did Russian verse, as well as the Russian literary language, become artistically simple and pure, yet at the same time amazingly colorful, graphic, brilliant, and popular." These words aptly capture the wide range of drama and coloration imparted by Pushkin’s poetry, but it was the great musicianship with which the ensemble performed that added a whole new dimension to his words.

More often than not, in recitals for voice and piano, the listener's attention gravitates towards the voice. However in rare cases, as when a pianist of Vera Danchenko's stature is on stage with the singer, her mastery of the keyboard in tonal quality, coloration, dexterity and interpretive gift elevates the listening experience into a sublime balance of voice and instrumentation. As in “To the Fountain of Bakhchisarai Palace,” by Vlasov, there clearly was no divide in the duo nature of the performance.

Henri and Lisa Polgar, FestivalDC.com