I went to a concert by violinist Omar Chen Guey and pianist Lin Guey on 7/25/20, co-presented by Open Space Music and A Far Cry. The introductory remarks were made by Grace Kennerly, Executive Directory of A Far Cry, a 16-member conductor-less chamber orchestra based in Boston. They were founded in 2007, they sound like a fantastic group, I’d love to hear them sometime.
The first piece was “Song of the Black Swan” by Heitor Villa-Lobos. It had the elegance, the gliding, and the rippling that you expect with a swan piece but it also had some unusual harmonies. The violinist didn’t shy away from being a little soupy, and this piece invites some well-placed soupiness. It had a strangely static ending, surprising and quizzical. Like a young rosé!
The next piece was introduced by the composer, Brazilian-American composer Raimundo Penaforte. It was “Hommage a Joaquín,” a riff on the second movement of Joaquín Rodrigo’s *Concierto de Aranjuez.* I know this tune from the Miles Davis and Gil Evans album *Sketches of Spain:*
Penaforte originally wrote it as a piano solo, then he did a version for piano and string quartet, and then this version for violin and piano. He wrote this version in 2007 but it had never been performed until this concert. It was contemplative, ruminative. The pianist had a wonderful physicality to her playing, it was engrossing watching her. Penaforte wrote a mysterious middle section before the big tune came back. The violinist played the Moorish doodles with panache. The piece on the whole was very beautiful, it seemed to follow its own path and it was an interesting journey.
Next: Villa-Lobos’s “The Moth in the Light.” It had rapid, constant fluttering in the violin and harmonic grounding and ripples in the piano. They both played it with assurance and style. This piece is a welcome alternative to “The Flight of the Bumblebee.”
Next was my favorite piece on the program, an original piece by Penaforte, “Elegia.” He originally wrote it for trumpet and piano and later arranged it for violin and piano. It’s always a thrill to hear a new piece with a long, lyrical melody. It was just plain gorgeous, and they played it so well. Here's a performance of the version for cello and piano:
The next piece was a *West Side Story* suite by Bernstein/Penaforte. At first I was worried when the piano introduction seemed too heavy and grand for “I Feel Pretty,” but I soon realized that Penaforte was doing his own thing with the tune, he was making it into a Viennese waltz. What a treat to hear this all-too-familiar tune done in a fresh and marvelous setting. Strudel mit schlag, por favor!
Penaforte’s arrangement of “Somewhere” wasn’t entirely successful, and to explain my reservations I have to give a little background on Jascha Heifetz, one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century. He was a dazzling technician, he had a luscious fat tone, and he was a superlative musician. He did many arrangements, adapting pieces to utilize the idiomatic abilities of the violin, turning them into what I call “violin show pony pieces.” Nothing wrong with that, we all love a good show pony! Here’s a Gershwin piano prelude in its original version and in the Heifetz transcription:
Penaforte tried to Heifetzize “Somewhere” and it didn’t quite work. He had better luck with “America,” he added a lot of double stops and playful changing of registers, but the Heifetzization was still not a total winner.
The final piece was a Penaforte arrangement of a piece by Pixinguinha, “Carinhoso.” Lovely sort of cafe music, with some glamorous writing for the piano.