Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Association de la Chapelle Saint Jean - Berg, Fradet & Guénand - Handel, Shostakovich & Ducros - 07/09/23

George Frederick Handel: Sonata in G Minor, Op. 2, No. 8 
Dmitri Shostakovich: Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano 
Jérôme Ducros: Trio for Two Cellos and Piano 
Mylène Berg: Piano 
Anna Fradet: Cello 
Augustin Guénand: Cello 

Thoroughly enchanted by our bass & cello evening of the previous Sunday, my mom and I eagerly went back to the little chapel on the little hill outside the little village of Crupie last Sunday evening, this time for the equally unusual combination of two cellos and a piano, and a promising program featuring new versions of works by George Frederick Handel and Dmitri Shostakovich, as well as the wild card that would be local contemporary pianist and composer Jérôme Ducros. 
It had been an eventful week filled with business and pleasure, so we were looking forward to a relaxing Sunday evening despite the overbearing summer heat that had suddenly fallen upon us and was obviously there to stay. But we had to quickly adjust our expectations at the sight of countless cars already parked in the designated open field, and many people lining up for tickets. It sure seemed like the waves of tourists that had lately been invading Dieulefit and its surroundings had even made it as far as blissfully inconspicuous Crupie. On the other hand, who could blame them? 
Inevitably, the chapel filled up quickly, and just as inevitably, the air was already hot and muggy when the three young yet seasoned musicians took the stage, and not a moment too soon either, as the repeated sciatica story of the voluble Marseillais concert-goer behind me was really starting to get old. 

The first piece was an arrangement of Handel’s Sonata in G Minor, Op. 2, No. 8 for two violins and basso continuo, and while I had never heard the Baroque original, I was ready to bet that it could not have sounded much better than the genuinely attractive take on it performed in remarkable unison that we got to enjoy on Sunday. We were off to a good start. 
While I had always admired Shostakovich’s music for its stark darkness, uncompromising intensity and bold modernism, I had never thought of him as a Romantic. Well, I do now, after hearing his deeply lyrical and wonderfully refined Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano, which had been arranged for two cellos and piano, and included a prelude, a gavotte, an elegy, a waltz and a polka. These irresistibly cinematographic vignettes were handled with plenty of entrain and humor by the trio, which was clearly having a ball. They also accomplished something I thought impossible: Associating Shostakovich with fun. 
After those two terrific smaller pieces, the musicians had to take a few minutes to regroup and tune up again as the humidity was playing tricks on their constitutions and their strings, before tackling the mystère du jour: Jérôme Ducros’ Trio for Two Cellos and Piano, which turned out to be an ambitious and sprawling work in three movements that confidently unfolded with big, splashy Romantic waves, highly agitated spells and delicately crafted rêveries à la Brahms or Rachmaninov, neatly combining beloved traditions and exciting innovation in the process. 
In fact, the wild roller-coaster that was the first movement was so engrossing that the audience spontaneously broke into frenetic clapping at the end of it, providing an unexpected break to the over-heating musicians, who actually looked grateful for it. Concert etiquette be damn! And then they valiantly resumed their marathon, which they vigorously carried on all the way to the finish line. They may have broken a sweat, but it all paid off in the end. 

After the official program was over, it is probably fair to say that we were all dying as much for fresh air as for more musical treats. Fortunately, the trio decided to soldier on for one encore, a truly delightful instrumental version of the Barcarolle from Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman. Although invited to sing along, we thankfully abstained for the most part, except for the woman sitting at my right, whose not particularly in tune but admittedly discreet humming did not even manage to spoil the pure magic of the moment.

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