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Ephemeras and Eternities

New York
Le Poisson Rouge, 162 Bleecker Street
04/26/2011 -  
Federico Mompou: Música Callada – Cantar del Alma (Song of the Soul)
Arvo Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel
Richard Rodgers: Hello, Young Lovers (Arranged by Stephen Hough)
George Gershwin: Fascinatin’ Rhythm (Arranged by Earl Wild)
Harold Arlen: Get Happy (Arranged by Stephen Prutsman)

Jenny Lin (Piano), Ann Hoyt (Soprano), Chern Hwei Fung (Violin), Leigh Stuart (Cello)
Concept by Ignacio Alcover, Juan Uriagereka and Jenny Lin, adapted from “Mystics”, a music and performance art work created by Musica Aperto

J. Lin (© Herring Rollmop)

The packed house at Le Poisson Rouge had three ways to approach the performance last night. First was to hear yet another incarnation by the endlessly eclectic pianist Jenny Lin. Second, they had an introduction to a mysterious (yet quite simple) Catalan/French/French composer Federico Mompou for whom Ms. Lin’s latest Archiv Record is dedicated.

Third was the most intriguing. Outside of the stage light, the only illuminations were table candles, the music an uninterrupted set of fascinating piano bagatelles by Mompou, with a few entr'actes of varying qualities. Much of the audience seemed to be acolytes of the composer (or Ms. Lin), and the result was that this evening could have been a stylized ritual.

(True, the bread and wine in Poisson Rogue was ofttimes hamburger and beer, but Ms. Lin transubstantiated the notes into something sacramental.)

Mompou lived much of his 90 years in life in Paris, and has often been associated with Les Six, and Erik Satie. But these seven composers were noted for humor, self-deprecation and frequently vivacious music.

Mr. Mompou resembled Satie in his brevity of music, and his titles were somewhat quirky in Silent Music (“Angelic”, “Luminous”, “Plaintive”). But no humor was here. This was the music of a religious man. All of it was very slow (“Lento” was his description of all 12 works), stylish without being affected. He was a unique artist with a unique life, but he wore his religion on his sleeve.

He was, though, a composer of his time. Much of it resembled that cusp between Chopin and early Scriabin, a merging of Romantic and Impressionist. The second piece was almost directly from Bartók’s For Children (though one doubts Mompou realized this).

The most apt adjective for the dozen pieces might be ephemeral. Or peaceful. Or restful. Or half-heartedly charming. The word “trenchant” is too aggressive, and these were the least aggressive piano works I ever heard.

Ms. Lin would play a 90-second work, pause for a beat, play the next slow work, pause again. The meditatively-minded in the audience perhaps felt a slight trance, the rest of us felt…fell, comfortable.

Then again, Jenny Lin’s playing has that unique quality of being confident yet never ostentatious. Three works after the Mompou were classic arrangements of American show tunes, including Earl Wild’s pyrotechnical Fascinatin’ Rhythm. Mr. Wild plays it with pure dazzlement, Ms. Lin played the same notes with appreciation.

During the performance, we had two alterations. Arvo Pärt’s mysticism can be a conceivable partner for Mompou’s modest contemplation, but his Mirrors in Mirrors with Ms. Lin’s repetition of slow triplets, against obbligati in violin and cello, had a monotony which made Mompou’s bibelots sound profound.

The evening’s essence was vocal, not pianistic. The 16th Century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, was Mompou’s spiritual icon, and his Song of the Soul, without God ever mentioned, is a song which Mahler himself could have set.

A slow piano introduction, a slow unaccompanied soprano strophe with a nuance of Spanish. Then the solo piano, and the next verse sung alone. The six verses, as sung by Ann Hoyt created, existed and retained, yes, the eternity of the perennial philosophy.

It was only music, only notes. But somehow Federico Mompou, with the poetry of St. John of the Cross, reached the dark grottos of our hidden mind. His other works were moving, fascinating shadows. Cantar del alma was an illumination of a soul.

Harry Rolnick



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