Dallas — The 2015-16 season for Blue Candlelight Music Series closed on May 8 with a recital by Artistic Director Baya Kakouberi and her husband, Dallas Symphony Orchestra Senior Principal Associate Concertmaster Gary Levinson. The concert was held at the magnificent, art-filled Preston Hollow home of Richard and Enika Schulze, and featured pre-concert wine and hors d’oeuvres plus desserts at intermission.
The program took listeners on a voyage through Russian Romanticism and Modernism, including a focus on lesser-known works. First up was a transcription for violin and piano of Tchaikovsky’s “Barcarolle” from The Seasons. Originally written for piano, the piece is well-suited to the addition of violin. Levinson’s thoughtful use of vibrato was a particular boon here.
Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in F Minor, Op. 80, was a bit of a mixed bag. The violin part of this sonata, in particular, is infernally difficult. Kakouberi’s playing was appropriately firm and dramatic without being overblown, but the formidable technical demands that this piece makes on the violinist resulted in some dropped notes and missed shifts in the first movement and some brief arythmic moments in the fourth. Levinson hit his stride with the Allegro brusco second movement, however, and his fluid lyricism shone in the third movement, marked Andante.
After intermission, audience members were treated to Rachmaninoff’s Romance, Op. 6 No. 1. This piece played to what may be Levinson and Kakouberi’s greatest mutual strength—their ability to evoke deep wellsprings of emotion in their listeners through taut phrasing and gorgeous tone in lyrical passages. This gorgeous piece, while not a warhorse, is part of the standard repertoire, but Levinson and Kakouberi next treated audience members to two overlooked rarities by Mily Balakirev and a similarly neglected sonata by Cesar Cui.
These two composers, along with the now better-known Mussorgsky, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov, were known as “The Mighty Handful.” These composers began regular meetings when some were just teens, and developed a distinctively Russian style influenced by both Western ideas and Russian folk music. Although Balakirev and Cui were the original members of the group, with the other three joining later, the two founding members are seldom heard on symphonic or chamber music programs these days, unlike their brethren.
It was thus an especial pleasure to hear Levinson and Kakouberi resurrect some of their music. They performed Balakirev’s Hungarian Dance, Op. 6, No. 2, and his Impromptu for Violin and Piano. The Impromptu allowed Levinson to highlight his impressive sautillé (bouncing bow) technique. The Cui Sonata Op. 84 is probably never going to be a repertoire staple; still, Levinson and Kakouberi performed it authoritatively, and made a compelling case for both it and the Balakirev pieces being performed more frequently than they are.
Blue Candlelight, which with this concert concluded its 14th season, is one of a handful of established and emerging house party concert series in Dallas. Attending these concerts is always both a luxurious treat and a musical revelation.