We will hear In the Mists (1912), a cycle for solo piano by Leos Janácek (1854-1928) with John Etsell on piano; Three Echoes from the Tang Dynasty (2012) by William Ramsay with tenor Gabriel Silva, baritone Andre Shillo and Egle Januleviciute on piano; the Serenade in F Minor, Opus 73 by Robert Kahn (1865-1951) with Per Elmfors on clarinet, Sherry Trujillo on horn and Steven Schneider on piano; and three arias by Wolfgang Mozart (1756-91): the “Allelujah” from Exultate, Jubilate, “Dove sono” from The Marriage of Figaro and “Non mi dir” from Don Giovanni with soprano Deborah Bertling and Betty Oberacker on piano.
This program is almost too cool. Despite the relative unfamiliarity of some of the pieces, none is abrasive or dull — the two main sins of modern music — and two of them are likely to send you out in search of recordings (Ramsay’s work, alas, has yet to be recorded, being less than a year old).
Janácek continues as one of the most under-appreciated composers of the 20th century. If only he had not devoted so much of his creative energy to writing operas that, beautiful as they are, don’t travel well. In the Mists is one of his last large-scale compositions for solo piano. Its very title suggests Impressionism, and this is not misleading. It is a far cry from the French version of Impressionism, however, being much more coherent and substantial.
I have yet to hear this piece by Ramsay, but having heard two or three other works by this excellent composer, who lives among us, I anticipate pleasure rather than pain. Though they probably share a common literary source, I doubt very much that Three Echoes from the Tang Dynasty will sound much like Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” The Three Echoes of the work are called “Green Mountains,” “Rosy Cheeks” and “View from the Tower.”
When the Nazis forced Kahn to resign from the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1934, and prohibited the publication and performance of his music — all because he was a Jew — it precipitated his departure from Germany and plunged him into an obscurity from which he is only now beginning to emerge. The Nazis didn’t kill him, but they did manage to take away his life. As a pedagogue, he should be in the Pantheon for having taught piano to Arthur Rubinstein and Wilhelm Kempff.
As a composer, he is, quite simply, a master. The Serenade is not only perfectly beautiful — Mendelssohnian — but it is also perfectly crafted. After World War II, Kahn was hampered by the scarcity of purely instrumental orchestral scores in his oeuvre. Now that economy has prompted a rise in chamber music events, and interest in the chamber music literature, Kahn, with his predominately chamber catalog, is due for a restoration to his proper place.