On Friday evening, the Russian Chamber Art Society, led by Artistic Director Vera Danchenko-Stern, presented Russian Bel Canto, a lovely concert of Russian vocal masterpieces composed by Glinka, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninov. The concert, which featured the artistry of Nils Neubert (tenor), Timothy Mix (baritone), Julian Milkis (clarinet), Donald Shore (bassoon), and Vera Danchenko-Stern (piano), was hosted by the Embassy of Austria.
The concert began and ended with duets by Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov featuring Nils Neubert and Timothy Mix, with Vera Danchenko-Stern at piano. In between, these most talented and accomplished young singers took to the stage to perform individually, with Ms. Danchenko-Stern accompanying.
Neubert, born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, and trained at Juilliard and Columbia, impressed with his pleading voice, quivering emotion, lyrical style, and distinctive vibrato. Singing his first concert in the Russian language, he endeared himself to the heavily Russian populated audience when he shared this fact and offered humble appreciation to Vera Danchenko-Stern for her assistance in providing diction coaching.
Timothy Mix, who garnered critical acclaim in his award-winning performance as Edward Gaines in the New York premiere of Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison’s opera Margaret Garner, wowed the audience with his enormous and pure baritone voice, strong upper range, and glorious, rumbling low register. Nix has a commanding presence that played very well in a concert of Russian music, music which he admitted translates to him as “nothing in moderation.”
Taking her place at a beautiful Bösendorfer piano, an elegantly dressed and coiffed Vera Danchenko-Stern accompanied Neubert and Mix with expressive playing and passion that provided perfect support for their performances. Her love for the music she performed was expressed through her playing, but was also evident as while playing she silently sang each piece on the program. While many in the room needed the English translations of the Russian lyrics that were being sung, it was touchingly evident that Ms. Danchenko-Stern needed no translation whatsoever.
Providing instrumental contrast in what was primarily a vocal program, Ms. Danchenko-Stern invited Julian Milkis and Donald Shore to join her in a performance of Glinka’s Trio Pathetique (in four movements) for clarinet, bassoon, and piano. Having recently heard Milkis in a wonderful concert with the National Chamber Ensemble, I was anxious to hear him play this romantically inspired classical piece, and he did not disappoint. Even in introducing the work, it was clear that his approach to a classical piece would be one with the way he approaches jazz or any genre of music, and that is from the heart. His phrasing and his tone are truly so beautiful that they almost defy description, and the emotion and expression that come through both his body and his clarinet as he plays are such that he and his instrument seem to be one.
Donald Shore, principal bassoonist with The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, Wolf Trap Opera Orchestra, and the Post Classical Ensemble, is a fine musician, and one who is well-known to DC audiences. I enjoyed his performance, and in particular his ability to match phrasing and dynamics with Milkis and Ms. Danchenko-Stern. Besides the intimacy that is so much a part of chamber music, for musicians and audiences alike, there is the truth that in these small ensembles and with the music composed for them, there is nowhere to hide and there is no instrument or part more or less important than another. Herein lies the challenge and the opportunity, and this trio turned in a wonderful performance of a work that should be heard more often.
Thanks go to Ms. Susan Carmel Lehrman and the American Councils for International Education for their support of the Russian Chamber Arts Society and to the Embassy of Austria for hosting this most wonderful concert.
The next concert of the Russian Chamber Art Society will take place on Friday, February 14, 2014, 7:30 PM at the Embassy of Austria. Titled Musical Valentine, the concert will feature soprano Irina Mozyleva, Alexander Sevastian (accordion), and Vera Danchenko-Stern (piano). For more information call (703) 354-7354. Purchase tickets online.
The Russian Chamber Art Society’s Russian Bel Canto concert was performed on Friday, November 15, 2013 at 7:30 PM at the Embassy of Austria, in Washington, D.C.