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This entertaining, amusing, and artistically rewarding evening evoked the music and the spirit of the Paris salon culture that sponsored and inspired many artists, musicians, and writers of great fame.

Concert Review: ‘Hommage to Princesse de Polignac’ – Music by Debussy, Satie, Stravinsky, Fauré and More at Baryshnikov Arts Center (NYC, Nov. 3 2015)

Winnaretta Singer, the Princesse de Polignac
Winnaretta Singer, the Princesse de Polignac. Self-portrait ca. 1885, Fondation Singer-Polignac, Paris

Last night, a concert dubbed “Hommage to Princesse de Polignac” launched the Baryshnikov Arts Center‘s project of honoring some of the 20th century’s great patrons of concert music. The first of a series of three concerts curated by Pedja Muzijevic, BAC’s Artistic Administrator, it featured pianist Muzijevic himself along with tenor Paul Groves and pianist Conor Hanick performing works by composers associated with the Paris salon of the Princesse de Polignac. The program included works by Debussy, Stravinsky, Satie, Fauré, Manuel Infante, and Reynaldo Hahn.

A daughter of Isaac Singer (of sewing machine fame), Winnaretta Singer became the Princesse de Polignac upon her loving but chaste “lavender marriage” to the much older Prince Edmond de Polignac. The pair established one of the most prominent artistic salons of the fin-de-siècle and early 20th century. The Princesse’s patronage contributed to art and literature (inspiring Proust, for example) as well as music.

Still, at first the idea sounded a little gimmicky to me. Was it just a repackaging trick to generate interest in music that you could hear on any number of occasions? Or even music that might be lacking current appeal?

In the event, it proved an entertaining, amusing, and artistically rewarding evening. Muzijevic, a thoroughly charming host, introduced the concept and the works, giving a few biographical tidbits about the composers and their patroness that placed the music in context. And the pieces ended up complementing one another and producing in a few strokes a portrait of a milieu, beginning with Hanick’s shimmering performance of Claude Debussy’s “L’isle joyeuse,” to which he brought a pastel sensitivity right in line with the theatrical lighting by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, an unexpected and evocative element.

Muzijevic and Groves then gave a lighthearted reading of two songs by Hahn, a sweet, simple love song and a playful joke of a tune. Muzijevic returned for Satie’s “Dance maigre,” written for the Princesse, a jaunty piano dialogue between bass and treble passages, and Debussy’s angsty “Poissons d’or,” which he played with jazzy finesse and, further on, appropriate storminess.

Hanick didn’t entirely enamor me to Stravinsky’s “Piano Sonata.” Though built with modernistic tonalities it has a traditional kind of structure which I thought had room for more passion or poetic license. As the second movement progressed into the bright, scampering third, Hanick slowly won me over to the piece as his studied approach evolved towards the controlled emotionality he had displayed in the Debussy.

What drew me to this concert in the first place, aside from the Proust connection, was mostly the presence on the program of the “5 mélodies do Venise, Op. 58” by Gabriel Fauré, works I had never heard by the great French melodist. These pieces didn’t disappoint, especially interpreted so superbly by Groves, who is “on loan” from the Metropolitan Opera’s imminent production of Alban Berg’s Lulu. The tenor modulated with expert fluidity and sincere yet bemused musicality between full vibrato and softer timbres, making magic of pieces he admitted he initially heard as “ramblings.”

The concert closed with the two pianists joining forces for two pieces from Infante’s Andalusian Dances. The “Ritmo” was joyfully romantic, sweeping, at times Gershwinesque; the “Gracia” flowed in tense colors, the pianists locked in as perfect sync as one could ask for.

The series continues in December with “De Noailles’ Bal Masqué” and “Celebrating Misia Sert.” I mean to be at both if I can.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases.Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires.Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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