Nov 29th 2017

New England trio matches colorful cultures

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

In the world of classical music trios, there are few combinations as natural as the cello, guitar and piano. Operating mostly in the same register, attacking and retreating equally, the instruments can blend beautifully if played with discipline and heart. 

A new CD featuring three New Englanders --  Rebecca Hartka on cello, Jose Lezcano on gujtar and Barbara Lysakowski at the piano – displays a high degree of heart and total control. “Colors Couleurs Colores Cores” (Becsta Records) reflects all the cultures represented through the colorful music selected. The music comes from the United States, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil and France, hence the polyglot title.

I have been listening to the 12 cuts on this recording for the past few weeks and have become captivated by the virtuosity of the three players and the range of styles they perform – from Latin American tangos to Ravel and Debussy and onward to Argentine Astor Piazolla’s haunting “Oblivion” and finally to Brazilian Radames Gnattali’s syncopated sonata. The music takes you back to warmer climes and Latin emotions – with a break in the middle for French sophistication. Carefully matched for their coherence, the program would make a fine concert. 

But Ravel’s “Piece en forme de Habanera” played in dialogue form between Hartka and Lezcano fairly sets the listener dancing the habanera. Ravel expertly overlays the swinging habanera rhythm with colorful chords and melody in Spanish gypsy style. 

A lyrical change of pace intervenes next with a rarely heard Debussy “Sonata for piano and cello in D minor”. The piano accompanies the cello melody with subtlety and charm. The second movement, the “Sérénade” again gives prominence to the sensuous and beautiful cello line. Echoes of flamenco and the gamelan are evident. Hartka’s notes warn of a finale with whole tone melody and “galloping triplets”.

The Piazolla “Oblivion” delivers what Hartka calls a “haunting and hopeless” melody that rises from sadness to passion and back into despair.

The concert ends with Brazilian Radamés Gnattali’s “Sonata for cello and guitar”, a piece that was a pop music hit but, as Hartka rightly points out, is “impeccably written with sweeping melodies set over unusual rhythms”. The finale is suitably flamboyant, rich in guitar chords and cello runs.

Ms. Hartka writes that she set out to show the value of this vibrantly colorful music. “My hope is to reveal threads of musical connection that build bridges across language and politics.” The CD is available here:

http://www.rebeccahartka.com/colors.htm




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