Dallas — The Blue Candlelight Music Series kicked off its 15th season Friday evening with an outstanding program featuring cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi and pianist Alexander Tselyakov.
As always, these house concerts are deluxe in every way. Valet parking, the lovely Preston Hollow home of Enika and Richard Schulze, and catered wine, hors d’oeuvres, and desserts add to the ambience.
The music was even more delicious than the lemon macarons on this evening. Castro-Balbi, a cello professor at Texas Christian University, started off the program with the iconic J.S. Bach Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major. His tempi were very much on the brisk side, but these pieces can be justifiably performed at a wide range of speeds, and his choices have precedence (see Rostropovich’s recordings for an example of a similarly fast clip). His playing was clean and expressive, although I do miss a bit of the contemplativeness that a slower tempo affords, especially in the first movement Prelude.
Pianist Alexander Tselyakov rounded out the first half with a solo turn of his own on the technically demanding Gaspard de la nuit by Maurice Ravel. The piece consists of three movements based on poems by Aloysius Bertrand. The final movement, “Scarbo,” which depicts a goblin’s mischief, is notoriously and deliberately one of the most difficult pieces in the piano repertoire. On Friday evening, the goblins were ably represented, indeed, as Tselyakov’s prodigious abilities were more than up to the task. This was technique and musicality of the highest order.
The second half of the program was no less captivating—Castro-Balbi and Tselyakov partnered for the Cello Sonata No. 1 of Johannes Brahms and Astor Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango. The Piazzolla was charming, as Piazzolla’s tango music inevitably is, and it was capably played.
The Brahms, though, was exemplary. Hearing this quality of music-making in the intimate surroundings of a house concert was a rare treat to be savored and remembered. Castro-Balbi has a captivating tone and rich, sustained vibrato optimal for Brahms. He has a big sound, especially in such a small room, and Tselyakov only very rarely overwhelmed him. (It helped that the Schulze’s Steinway was on the short stick.)
The duo encored with “The Swan,” from Camille Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals. Tselyakov showed himself to be a fine collaborative pianist as well as soloist on what was one of the finest Blue Candlelight performances I’ve heard to date.