The Mysterious Mind of Leos Janácek
02/24/2017 - & February 25, 2017
Johann Sebastian Bach: Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, BWV 170
Leos Janácek: The Diary of One Who Disappeared
William Ferguson (Tenor), Avery Amereau (Alto), Marie Marquis, Anna Slate, Siobhan Sung (Voices)
Cantata Profana: Daniel Schlosberg (Piano), Jacob Ashworth, Jude Ziliak (Baroque Violins), Kyle Miller (Baroque viola), David Dickey (Oboe d’amore), Jeffrey Grossman (Organ, continuo), Sara Holdren (Director)
A. Amereau (© Juilliard.edu)
“Janácek is actually the only great composer to whom the term ‘expressionism’ can be applied fully. For him, everything is expression. And a note has no right to exist except as expression.”
Milan Kundera, from Testaments Betrayed.
What a miraculous composer he was!! I’m not thinking of Sinfonietta, a masterpiece in its own right. But the later works of Janáček, when he had fallen in love with a young girl (he was in his 60’s, she in her 20’s), and his joyful obsession was turned into a multitude of joyful music. Joy in the soul, in the passions, in (yes, Kundera’s word), in expression.
And to hear the so rare work last night, Diary of One Who Disappeared, was of the great events of the musical week. Not because it was done better than other concerts (though indeed it was as good as one can do), but because of its singularity.
The piece defies description. Is it a monologue? A short opera? An oratorio? A concert work? A song cycle? No, none of them. Yes, it’s basically a song cycle, but in the middle comes another singer. It’s an opera, because it tells a story, though we have only a piano. It’s an oratorio, because we have a chorus. It’s....it’s...
Well, it’s Leos Janácek. In 22 songs, a young peasant boy sings of his obsession with a Gypsy seductress in the forest. He meets her, she seduces him, he feels guilt, he leaves with her.
But whose “diary” is this? It begins with him, then the gypsy tells the story, then the three voices tell the story. And the music darts and frets, runs from one emotion to another, following the words (which, spoken in a peasant-argot of Czech, we could never understand), it jumps into another feeling, goes back, sings a bit, and then leaps up once more.
In a way, the piano is Wagnerian, giving underlying expressions to what is happening on stage. But Wagner is subtle. Janácek is crazy and blatant, And this is what makes The Diary of One Who Disappeared so insanely gorgeous.
Cantata Profana, makes a habit of offering these works. Last night, it was not a Cantata, but it was certainly Profane, with lots of love-making behind the scrim curtain. And in this case, they had three splendid performer/actors to give it intuition.
First, pianist Daniel Schlosberg, who had the so difficult role as pianist. Not because of the technical gyrations, but the challenge of showing romance, passion, guilt, joy, but without an excess of any feeling. Not it doesn’t deserve the highest emotions, but because the changes are so explosive that he could never afford to get us “hooked’ on a particular passage.
Remember, Janácek’s piano here is a reflection of a brain. And no matter how we concentrate, Janácek knew that the brain has a thousand alterations.
W. Ferguson (© EncompassArts)
Then we have tenor William Ferguson. I had never heard him before, and this was hardly the type of piece which signifies what he will do later. The voice was thrilling at time (and twice he went to the top of the range with no problems), but he needed acting as well. Pushing a chair from one stage to another, fearfully giving himself to a gypsy, of all things. (And anybody in Central or East Europe knows how despised they are), And finally giving way to disappearing.
I don’t happen to speak Lachian Czech, so don’t know if the language was spoken clearly, yet it seemed fine with all the performer. And hosannahs to all five of them for mastering the tongue.
Third, the three voices, part of the Janáček modus operandi which says, “Okay, this is the way I have to write the piece. The voices have to appear.” The three seemed all too ghostly, all too natural on the intimate stage of the Leonard Nimoy Theater.
And then Avery Amereau, here as the gypsy. An alto who can sing with a contralto range. And as the gypsy, she could well become another Carmen.
This was what made the evening a great one. My only tiny quibble is that in the curtain call, she came out with a blanket cradling a baby. The surprise was satisfactory, probably, though I was still engrossed with the music.
The evening started, though, with Ms. Amereau in a different guise, singing the Bach solo cantata Delightful Rest, Sweet Pleasure of My Soul.
Ever since hearing Ms. Amereau sing Berlioz Nuits d’été, I have utterly admired her wide range, her sensitivity, her lovely interpretations. Last night, her role in the Janácek widened my admiration. In the Bach, though, much was lost. This wasn’t her fault, or the fault of the musicians. It was perhaps Cantata Profana’s choice of going back to the Baroque style.
The balance of that tranquil opening was off, in that one heard David Dickey’s oboe d’amore far more blatantly than one would have liked. Then too the other Baroque instruments became here not the background or accompaniment. They were equals with Ms. Amereau, as though she was one member of a septet.
Organist Jeffrey Grossman is undoubtedly a fine musician, but the organ used here sounded more like a calliope. Perhaps this was the authentic Bach sound. But in such a sensitive, delicate work, that sound detracted from Mr. Amereau’s voice.
Not important. Once the Janácek began, one lost memory of Bach. It was sufficient to be seduced by the composer’s quivering, breathless psyche itself.