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Sussmann: Eggnog for the Soul

Sussmann: Eggnog for the Soul

The December 27th broadcast premiere of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Front Row Artist Series concert #7 (sponsored by the San Antonio Chamber Music Society) was a welcome respite from a rather pathetic Christmas season.   Rather than “Ho-Ho-Ho,” we have “Oh, well:  next year.”  We seem to be inundated with tragedies, unable to be with loved ones and/or thoroughly bored – and along comes this gorgeous, uplifting concert featuring the magical violinist, Arnaud Sussmann.  The two selections, first by Bach, second by Chausson, were eggnog for the soul.  It made me happy to look at my little Christmas tree with its brave lights against the darkness and its treasury of heirloom ornaments while I listened to the pure melodic sound of Mr. Sussmann’s bravura music.  He was a student and protégé of Isaac Perlman and there is an echo of the maestro’s artistry in his technique,  intensity and phrasing.

It made me happy to look at my little Christmas tree with its brave lights against the darkness and its treasury of heirloom ornaments while I listened to the pure melodic sound of Mr. Sussmann’s bravura music.

A notable feature of both selections was the combination of solo, duet and chamber music.  The scores moved effortlessly among the various groupings.  There was a certain realization that instrumentation had occasionally changed, but the changes were subtle to the extent that it required a few bars to recognize them.  These transitions are testament to the precision and artistry of the performers.

The Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 is one of my favorites and I think it should always be part of the Christmas music repertoire.  I can’t explain why exactly, but its Baroque melodies and harmonies are timeless and impart the feeling of music experienced in magnificent cathedrals.  The first movement, the Allegro, is the very exemplar of Baroque music; the Andante movement is elegant yet simple; and the Presto is joyful.  All together and performed by eight masterful musicians (Sooyun Kim, flute, Tara Helen O’Connor, flute, Bella Hristova, violin, Francisco Fullana, violin, Richard O”Neill viola, Dmitri Atapine, cello, Xavier Foley, bass, and Hyeyeon Park, piano-harpsichord) along with Mr. Sussmann made for a musical experience not soon forgotten.  Observe the variety of instruments.  Along with the traditional strings of classical chamber music is the addition of two flutes, two additional violins and piano-harpsichord, and these combinations and permutations of sound gave the composition its baroque elegance.  This performance impels purchase of CDs, and I hope there is one!

Arnaud Sussmann

Music, such as this glorious concert (which will be free for your viewing pleasure at sacms.org until January 2), certainly gave the listeners respite from this thoroughly weird Christmas.  Eggnog for the soul!

The second performance on the program was Ernest Chausson’s Concert in D major, a French Romantic composition that also combines three violins (Sussmann, Kristin Lee and Yura Lee), a viola (Richard O’Neill) and cello (Nicholas Canellakis).  As a special treat, our CMS Front Row series host Wu Han, co-director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, was the pianist.  Mr. Sussmann called this “an adventurous concert,” and I assume that what he meant was that some extraordinary skills are required to bring this 19th Century composition, which is infrequently performed, to life.  The Décidée movement swirled with changing instrumental combinations; the Sicilienne movement was more orchestral; the Grave presented a variety of musical colors; the Trés animé lived up to its title with animation and spirit.  After the Baroque order of the Bach, the Chausson was a guilty pleasure, romantic to its core.

I’m sure we’ll hear more from Arnaud Sussmann in years to come.  His playing is precise but not pedantic, his music is emotional and deeply understood.  At the pre-concert zoom discussion, he spoke of the connection a musician has with the audience, how it is sensed by the performer and how important that connection is.  We also spoke of the healing power of music, a mystic medicine that can affect body, mind and spirit.  Music, such as this glorious concert (which will be free for your viewing pleasure at sacms.org until January 2), certainly gave the listeners respite from this thoroughly weird Christmas.  Eggnog for the soul!

– E Doyle

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