Franz Schubert: Overture for String Quintet
Manuel Ponce: Intermezzo for Strings
Frederic Chopin: Waltz for 4 violas (arr. Pierre-Henri Xuereb)
Eugene Ysaye: Exil! for String Orchestra
Arthur Benjamin: From San Domingo for Strings and Viola
Schubert-Solbiati: Three duos for violin and viola
Ladislav Kupkovic: Souvenir for String Quartet and Violin
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Modihna, extract from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 for String Quartet
Just the fact that my Easter vacation schedule in the south of France was already surprisingly packed was not reason enough not to add another unexpected but certainly welcome outing. And that would be the concert by the Primrose Ensemble featuring French violist Pierre-Henri Xuereb and Serbian-Italian violinist Dejan Bogdanovic in the historic Roman Catholic Saint-Pierre Church of Dieulefit, Drôme Provençale. The inconspicuous and yet wonderful venue has been hiding in one of the village’s typical medieval streets since the early 15th century and often offers highly praised cultural events in its pretty little space.
Lately it had become obvious that the time had come for me to check out one of those, and that's just what I did on my second day in Dieulefit with my mom and her Aix-en-Provence-based friend Jacqueline, both semi-regulars, after we had spent a busy afternoon breathlessly catching up and drinking home-made hot chocolate at Dieulefit’s terrific chocolatier, one of the village’s most popular spots and my hands-down favorite hang-out (Granted, there's not much competition, but still).
As true-blue French nationals we dutifully took a few minutes to grumble about the inexplicable disorganization of the reserved vs. unreserved seats (Seriously, how hard is it to put labels on a few more chairs instead of causing utter chaos after half the audience is already seated?), but eventually decided not to let the incident spoil our fun.
The concert kicked off with one of the most famous, and probably beloved, names on the program, Franz Schubert, and the overture to his String Quintet, which quickly established that the musicians on the stage were of the highest caliber, and that we were in for a memorable evening.
It was followed by 20th contemporary Mexican composer Manuel Ponce’s Intermezzo for Strings, which vividly evoked the rural atmosphere of his home country.
Then we moved back to European Romanticism with Pierre-Henri Xuereb’s arrangement of Frederic Chopin’s Waltz for 4 violas, which positively proved that the violist really knew the possibilities of his instrument inside out.
Eugene Ysaye’s well-known Exil! for String Orchestra was next. Scored for violins and violas only, the composition is melancholic and gloomy pretty much throughout, but our spirits were lifted up by the masterful interpretation.
From San Domingo for strings and viola by contemporary British composer Arthur Benjamin featured some downright amazing pizzicatos that more than made up for the missing piano among all those strings.
The unlikely but eventually winning team of German 18th-century Schubert and Italian contemporary Alessandro Solbiati gave some of the musicians inspired material in three duos for violin and viola.
Another contemporary work, Souvenir for String Quartet and Violin by Slovak composer and conductor Ladislav Kupkovic this time, was the perfect opportunity for special guest Dejan Bogdanovic to display not only his impressive technical skills, but his delightful sense of humor as well.
The last piece on the program was from Brazil, of all places. Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Modihna, from his Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1, was probably supposed to conclude the concert with festive fireworks.
However, the ovation from the sold-out crowd was so enthusiastic that fearless violinists Yardani Torres-Majani and Luis-Miguel Joves Molina came back for two mysterious encores whose fierce virtuosity almost made the official program sound subdued. This was quite a nice way to prepare our ears for the sumptuous music feast waiting for us in Aix.
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