A terrific, even heady, evening of chamber music at the Huntington Gallery in San Marino last night — a neatly tailored program of French composers for a Sunday’s eve. After picnicking on the Huntington’s generous manicured lawn, we repaired to the gallery’s high-ceilinged, red-tiled patio-loggia decorated with doric columns and marble busts. There a fine full roster of selections by Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Darius Milhaud and César Franck kicked in.
Pianist/soloist Ming Tsu’s program-opening Suite Bergamasque, by Debussy, transported us from la vie quotidienne into art-land with a shimmering translucent touch. (Tsu did the heavy lifting of the evening later banging away in the Franck quintet.) Soprano Elissa Johnston delivered wiggy art songs by Ravel based on texts by an 18th century Creole poet, Evariste-Desire de Parny. Who even knew Ravel wrote songs like that? Darius Milhaud’s marvelous, jazz-infused La Creation du Monde got a somewhat sluggish rendering in places where it should pop. But what a wonderful composition, with echos indeed foreshadowings of Gershwin. A Franck quintet for four strings and piano formed a furious finale. The Southwest ensemble played the exigent and harrowing nightcap with sweat-breaking muscularity.
What a gorgeous venue to hear music. The night air wasn’t remotely nippy and the crickets belched during the silences. A glorious night.
The Pasadena-based Southwest Chamber Music just celebrated its 25th anniversary season. The two-time Grammy award winner (seven-time nominee) puts on a strong show. The French programming is part a summer theme honoring the centenary of Pasadena native, Julia Child. French pique-niques are encouraged, but for those who enjoy service, the Gallery’s tea room serves French menus. The season is not yet over. Go … and don’t forget the paté.
photo credit: thank you ian birnie
Southwest Chamber Music Summer Series | The Huntington | thru August 26