Last night’s concert at Trinity Saint Paul’s by the Amici Ensemble and friends. was titled From Strauss to the Orient. Unsurprisingly, the first half of the concert was Strauss. The first piece was the Duett Concertino for clarinet, bassoon, strings and harp; arranged by Serouj Kradjian with piano replacing harp. Besides the Amicis (Serouj – piano, Joaquin Valdepeñas – clarinet and David Hetherington – cello) were guests Kathleen Kajioka and Timothy Ying – violins, Barry Shiffman – viola, David Lalonde – bass and Michael Sweeney – bassoon. It’s an interesting piece. The clarinet and bassoon basically carry on a conversation across three movements with the strings and piano as a sort of “backing band”. The overlapping ranges but very different colours of the two woodwind instruments are both pleasing and intriguing. It was nicely done. It’s always a delight to watch a chamber ensemble that is obviously communicating and having fun!
Next up were four quite well known Strauss songs sung by soprano Joyce El-Khoury with the ensemble accompanying; again in arrangements by Kradjian. The arrangements do strike a nice balance between the full blown orchestral versions, which force the singer to push a lot, and the more accommodating (and original) piano versions. As so often, I’m happier with a chamber reduction than full orchestra but in this case, despite, the additional colours of the ensemble, I really think I like the piano versions!
Most interesting to hear Joyce sing Strauss too. She told me she has done The Four Last Songs with orchestra but otherwise her Strauss experience was limited to student assignments until Serouj asked her to do these versions. I liked it a lot. It’s not a typical Strauss voice. It retains the brightness of the Italian and, especially French, bel canto repertoire we associate her with but there’s plenty of heft. So, if a song like “Traum durch die Dämmerung”; quite lightly accompanied, was properly delicate, “Zueignung” got the full on romantic/dramatic treatment to exciting effect. I’m torn between wanting to hear Joyce sing more Strauss and really wanting to hear her apply that power and delicacy (and the coloratura we know she has) to some of the mid 19th century French rep. I would love, love, love to hear her sing Matilde in Guillaume Tell or Alice in Robert le Diable for example.
After the break it was off to the land of giant cedars. First it was pretty indirect with a melting performance of Ravel’s Shéhérazade, sung dramatically and with lots emotional commitment accompanied skilfully by Kradjian on piano. Then it was four Lebanese songs (after a long intro extolling the virtues of Lebanese hummus – accept no other). The accompaniment here was piano, clarinet, bass, Kathleen on Arabic violin and Naghmeh Farahmand on percussion. This was fun. I suppose you could describe this as east/west fusion music (would it be unfair to characterise Lebanese culture more broadly that way. We are talking about the descendants of those cosmopolitans extraordinaire the Phoenicians after all). However one characterises it it’s extremely enjoyable in a fun way to listen to; beautiful, lively, dramatic, poignant by turns. Very well done by all concerned too. And, in case we thought we knew where we were we got an incisive encore of Weill’s Youkali to disabuse us.
It was a thoughtfully put together programme very well played and sung. If you missed it there’s a hint that the Lebanese songs, at least, may appear on the Amici’s Youtube channel.
Photo credit: Tim O’Reilly