Three Swiss Virtuosi at Merkin Hall

“ThinkSwiss: Genève meets New York,” a festival of global ideas born in Geneva, centered around the 300 anniversary of Jean-Jacques Rousseu’s birth, presented three young solists from the L’Orchestre de Genève, at an open concert at Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Center on March 11.

         Louis Schwizgebel, pianist, François Sochard, violinist, and Lionel Cottet, cellist, all all first-prize laureats of international competitions. They “come together in a program to pay homage to Rosseau as musician and other composers with close links to Geneva,” proudly said Pierre Maudet, mayor of Geneva.

         The piano was the featured instrument of the evening. The 24-year-old Schwizgebel proved master of the keyboard through his excellent technical ability and a highly emotional feeling for music for a person of his age.

         Rousseau’s Confessions inspired the 19-century German composer Kalkbrenners’ Variations pour les 3 note de la célèbre romance of J.J. Rousseau.

         Variations is a simple piece that evokes child-like wonder. Pastoral in theme, in its playful sweep of three notes, it speaks to the human impulse of Garden-of-Eden soulful abandonment to nature.

         On the other hand, Swiss composer Marescotti’s Variations pour piano sur un théme de J.J. Rousseau was especially written for the young pianist. His music is more modern in style, discordant in harmony and counterpunctual. Variations, thus, allows Schwizgebel to exhibit his technique.

         Maurice Ravel’s family came from Geneva. Gaspard de la nuit is known for its difficulties and unsuspected fingering dangers. In the Ondine movement, Schwizgebel gave no evidence of these snares as his fingers danced gracefully over the keys.

         The water sprite Ondine attempts to seduce a mortal to descend to her kingdom at the bottom of a lake. Ravel’s piece draws on this theme of seduction by melodic images of drops of water, tumbling waterfalls and the froth of swirling eddies.

         Schwizgebel’s virtuosity is well suited to the plaint of Ondine’s sad voice as the music dissolves like the spray on the morning mist.

         As the last notes quieted, the 500-seat Merkin Hall erupted èinto shouts of bravo.

         Lizst’s Les cloches de Genève call upon romantic memories of the night as the chimes of church bells peal the last office of the day.

         Minor and major keys never resolve the melody. They remain rhythmic rumors of the night. The tintinabulation of the of the bells, Schwizbel’s playing telling never strays from a doleful mood; the ringing never releases our ears from preternatural sadness.

         François Sochard’s violin banish the cloying atmosphere of mourning as his bow attacked Brahams Hungarian Dances (numbers 1,2,6 and 7).

         Standing in a heroic pose, he made his violin sing to the lively dances based on Hungarian themes.

         A mood of gemütlichkeit seemingly seized the audience, setting feet tapping in time to the music that is no stranger to us.

         Accompanying Sochard, Schwizgabel’s somber mood was transformed as his fingers flew joyfully over the ivories and he worked the Steinway’s pedals with gleefulness.

         No longer did we feel as though we were at the Kaufman Center but we were magically transported in time to the old Café

Geiger in Yorkville serenaded by a Gypsy as we sipped tea and ate cream-filled törte.

         The dances ceded the stage to Lizst’s Scherzo in C minor. Sochard proved that he masterly dominated this musical form.

         Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor brought Lionel Cottet to center stage.

         The trio’s opening chords on his 160-year-old cello signaled the audience that we were in store for an interlude of musical humor and melodic ready-witted fun.

         Piano Trio in D minor bears the mark of full-blown Romanticism. It is lyrical and fleet in four movements.

         Cello and violin engage in a dialogue through harmony and counter point as the piano replies with grace and charm.

         The mood changes from a quick, nervous tempo to a moderately slow one; it then shifts to a quick triple time and finally, it ends in lively playing with strong passionate feelings.

         Thus ended 80 minutes of a rewarding evening, to woops and cries of approval we normally associate with rock concerts. The roar of the house was such that Schwizgebel, Sochard and Cottett repeated the Trio’s last movement as an encore, to everyone’s pleasure and satisfaction.

         The evening rightfully belonged to Schwizgebel. And yet, the deep stirring tones of Cottet’s cello and the hum of Sochard’s violin left us with a hunger for more chamber music.

         This evening devoted to Rousseau stimulated our taste, sensitivity and intelligence for serious music. For, its appeal is broad and universal.

         Baruch students should be encouraged to check the Kaufman Center’s website; they might be surprised at what they will find.

         MeetSwiss was a free event which the City of Geneva and the Swiss Tourist Board hope would encourage a visit to Rousseau’s city overlooking the scenic Lac Leman with the alps in the foreground.


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