Photo by Anne Peterson

Photo by Anne Peterson

Norfolk Chamber Consort: Bon appétit! Chandler Hall, February 8, 2016 Review by M.D. Ridge

On February 8th, the Norfolk Chamber Consort presented a tasty program appropriately entitled Bon appétit, all of whose selections had something to do with delicious food and drink. Consort co-director Andrey Kasparov gave an entertaining pre-concert introduction to the various composers and their works, beginning with the influential-and quite eccentric-Erik Satie. His Gymnopédies are probably the most familiar to audiences, but (full disclosure) I first heard his Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear on WHRO. It was his first composition for piano duet, strikingly performed this night by the Invencia Piano Duo of Kasparov and co-director Oksana Lutsyshin.

Even its title is a joke-there are not three pieces but seven, with funny titles: Manière de commencement (Beginning) was haunting, with a surprise ending. The second, called Prolongation du même (More of the Same), was . . . different, with marching, declarative chords.

In Piece 1, the melody goes around oddly, punctuated by crossing chords. Piece 2 was light, bright and quick, with a lyrical, song-like middle. Piece 3, labeled Brutal, was exactly that: insolent and insistent. The sixth piece was En plus (What’s More), that takes the mind out of its rut and goes different places with it. The last movement is inelegantly labeled Rehash (Redite); it begins gently and ends pianissimo.

One doesn’t often hear recipes put to music, even though Rossini said he could put a laundry list to music. (But he never did.) The remarkable Leonard Bernstein set four 19th-century French recipes to music for piano and the voice of Jennie Tourel: Plum Pudding; Oxtails; Tawook Guenksis (a Turkish chicken recipe); and Rabbit at Top Speed. The first and last were sung in French, the middle two in English, by mezzo soprano Adriane Kerr. Lutsyshin’s rollicking piano cheerfully underscored the rollicking melodies which were blindingly fast-and not easy!

Six sections of the Divertissement from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker followed; it was the world premiere of Kasparov’s arrangement for piano duo. Kasparov noted that The Nutcracker is not as popular, not as highly thought of, in Russia as it is here. The dances take place in the Kingdom of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Spanish dance is called Chocolate, recalling the introduction of chocolate to Europe following the Spanish conquest of South America. The sonorous, mysterious Arabian dance evokes the Middle East, where coffee was cultivated for centuries. The Chinese dance celebrates tea. Candy Canes are the subject of the trepak, a muscular Russian dance. The Danish Shepherdesses was originally the dance of the mirlitons, which was the name of both a French sweet cake and a reed pipe. Mother Ginger and her Children was inspired by a Russian candy of the 1880s, sold in a well-known tin in the shape of a woman with a large skirt; the tin opened at the bottom to reveal the children inside.

It was lovely, familiar music in an unusual, delightful arrangement. It’s always interesting to watch Kasparov and Lutsyshyn’s piano four hands work. Turning pages, for instance-like doubles in tennis, they have to feel whose turn it is, because there’s no time to ponder the question. Lutsyshyn was on the left, playing the bass part and doing the pedaling, while Kasparov was on the right, playing the treble melodies-and yes, air-pedaling a bit.

Johann Sebastian Bach never wrote an opera-the only genre he didn’t contribute to-but his hilarious Coffee Cantata is as close as he could get to a comic opera. Before it even started, Kasparov had the audience in stitches showing them his “coffee” tie, patterned with cups. He conducted a delightful ensemble of flute (Wayla Chambo), two violins (Gretchen Loyola and Anna Dobrzyn), viola (Anastasia Migliozzi), cello (Jeffrey Phelps), Madeline Dietrich (double bass) and harpsichord (Lutsyshyn). The recitatives were sung in English, and the Arias between them were sung in German, with the translation thoughtfully included in the program. The narrator, tenor Brian Nedvin, began the tale of Mr. Schlendrian, at his wits’ end because his daughter Liesgen is addicted to coffee and won’t give it up, as he asks. Gregory Gardner’s clean, clear bass brought out Schlendrian’s concern for his daughter and frustration that she won’t do what he says. Soprano Elizabeth Hogue was wonderfully expressive as Liesgen, the contrary daughter who swears if she can’t have her three little cups of coffee a day, she’ll turn into a shriveled-up roast goat.

Her father warns, “If you don’t give up coffee for me, you won’t go to any wedding parties or even out for walks.” “Fine,” she sings. “Leave my coffee alone!” Father threatens to withhold a new dress, bonnet ribbons, even looking out the window, but Liesgen is adamant. Ah, but she wants a husband. . . okay, no more coffee-and the narrator sings of Schlendrian going about, looking for a husband for her-while Liesgen decided the marriage contract will have a clause that she will be permitted to brew coffee whenever she wants it.

As Shakespeare said, “If music be the food of love, play on.” All three-Nedvin, Gardner and Hogue, join in the final joyful, rueful chorus with the full ensemble. It was an utterly charming end to an utterly charming evening.

This review was originally broadcast on WHRO 90.3 FM’s “From the other side of the Footlights.”