Four musicians gathered on Monday night at (le) poisson rouge in New York City’s Greenwich Village for a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide. Music by Russian and Armenian composers made up a varied but focused program that asserted the power of art to challenge cruelty and violence.
At the symbolic center of the cabaret-style concert were noted cellist Mischa Maisky and his 18th-century Montagnana cello. His daughter, pianist Lily Maisky, and two other young musicians joined him for music by Dvořák, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Shostakovich, as well as three Armenian composers.
Only one of the three Armenian names was familiar to me. Lily Maisky and Elena Lisitsian played the Waltz from Masquerade by Aram Khachaturian for piano four hands with a potent combination of force and somber lyricism. (When I was a piano student, playing Khachaturina’s “Toccata” was my favorite aggression outlet.) From 20th-century composer Arno Babajanian we heard the “Andante” from a Piano Trio played by Lisitsian, violinist Alissa Margulis, and Mischa Maisky, and an “Elegie” performed by Lily Maisky.
Most interestingly from a cultural perspective, we heard a haunting and sensitively played slow piece called “Qeler Tsoler” by the composer-priest known as Komitas and known for adaptations of Armenian folk music.
Violinist Margulis produced a somewhat chalky tone on her first appearance, but thereafter, beginning in the Babajanian trio, her sound became sweet, lyrical, and well-balanced as the musicians adroitly negotiated the composer’s sometimes unorthodox harmonies. All four musicians, in fact, seemed to adapt their touches very nicely to the non-traditional venue, having fun and getting serious at the same time in presenting some works that were surely unfamiliar to most of the audience.
A Rachmaninoff “Vocalise” (song without words) provided a marvelous moment for the Maiskys, father and daughter, to play together beautifully, almost supernaturally in sync. The pair also gave us an “Elegie” by the same composer, transcribed by the elder Maisky, featuring the cello’s low range and earning the evening’s most enthusiastic applause. Maisky’s tone was dense and rich, and I was captivated by the pulsing emotion of the unison passages.
Most energetic was the Shostakovich Piano Trio Number 2 in E minor Op. 67. Cello and violin attacked strident dissonances with passion in the “Largo,” and struck the strings like mad rowers in the”Allegretto” with its buildup of stormy, march-like militancy. Margulis and the Maiskys produced real magic here.
Produced by GetClassical with the support of Armenian heritage organization AGBU Performing Arts, the concert was hosted and broadcast by WWFM. It was the last in an international series of “With You Armenia” concerts that have featured these and other musicians commemorating the World War I-era genocide and celebrating the persistence of Armenian musical culture.
Visit the GetClassical website for information on upcoming events, including a concert with pianist Vassily Primakov and friends and another with the Gloriosa Trio with Yoonie Han, Jennifer Carsillo, and Kevin Bate.