Bloomfield concert – An unforgettable experience


by Seneka Abeyratne

Two world-class musicians based in Paris, Shani Diluka (piano) and her husband, Gabriel Le Magadure (violin), paid a brief visit to Sri Lanka in January to perform at "Bloomfield" – a plush mansion located in Kohuwala, which is so tastefully decorated it resembles an art gallery. The program comprised well-known works by Massenet, Schubert, Dvorak, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Kreisler and Monti. This was the first time a concert was held at Bloomfied – the ideal location for "salon music" as it possesses the three key ingredients: a fine grand piano, good acoustics, and a large hall that can accommodate about ninety guests. With muted amber lighting and stylish décor, the ambience too is salubrious.

The concert was for invitees only. When the two artistes came down the stairs, they found a full house awaiting them. This was a distinguished gathering that included prominent members of the diplomatic and artistic community. Before the concert began there was a brief introduction of the evening’s program by a radiant Shani Diluka, who said the music they had chosen embraced themes such as love, joy, peace, happiness and freedom. She also thanked all those who have in one way or another supported her progress in the world of classical music. Here is someone who, despite her meteoric rise to fame, is exceedingly modest and speaks from the heart. She is so warm and sincere she can touch you as much with her words as with her music.

Only a few pianists possess the ability to blend superior technique with inborn musicality. Shani Diluka is one of them. She is certainly one of the most sought-after pianists in the world. (In her introduction, she did not mention that she averages about hundred concerts a year – an astounding statistic.) If one jots down all the prestigious venues in the world where she has performed, the list will run into pages.

Gabriel Le Magadure is on an equally dynamic career track. He is a founder member of the prestigious Ebene Quartet (which has won numerous international awards) and possesses a bow arm that is the envy of most other violinists in the world. So is his instrument – a three hundred-year old Guarneri with its unique timbre. To hear him play this violin is a mind-blowing experience. Delicate phrasing, sweeping emotion, phenomenal range … These are the hallmarks of a Le Magadure performance. What more could you ask from a man who plays a priceless Guarneri. The sound is to die for.

The duo was in top form (despite Le Magadure running a dangerously high fever) and gave the audience a cogent demonstration of its combined virtuoso skills. The concert opened with Massenet’s Meditation – an iconic piece originally composed for the opera Thaïs (in the form of a symphonic entr’acte) and meant to be performed with religiously-founded emotion. The haunting melody was played with rare sensibility by Gabriel Le Magadure with Shani Diluka providing a quiet and thoughtful accompaniment to the solo line. Every accelerando and ritardando was performed to perfection by this inimitable duo and the build-up to the climax was gripping.

Then came two lovely piano transcriptions by Schubert: Ständchen and Auf dem Wasser Zu Singen (both originally composed in the lied form). The first, also known as Serenade (where the singer exhorts his lover to be happy), is one of Schubert’s most popular romantic works, regarded by many as his final testimony to the world – performed with incomparable poise and elegance by Shani Diluka, who has a gift for tuning into the souls of great romantic composers. The second (To sing on the water) is almost as famous as the first due to its deeply poetic theme and exquisite melody. It was performed with such skill and finesse by the soloist that one could almost feel the texture of the shimmering waves.

The next item comprised Part 1 (Allegro Moderato) and Part 2 (Allegro Maestoso) of the cycle of four romantic pieces for violin and piano composed by Dvorak (Opus 75). Again, we heard some lovely melodies (one moderately fast, the other, fast and majestic) performed with remarkable grace and crystalline clarity by the enchanting duo. The violinist’s bow arm was something to behold.

This was followed by three lyric pieces from Grieg’s collection of 66 short pieces for solo piano: Arietta (moderately slow), Valse Impromptu (moderately fast), and March of the Trolls (extremely fast). The pianist performed these pieces with a subtle blend of passion and technical fluency. What struck the listener was her complete mastery of tempi conveyed with a sublime touch. The last piece was fast and furious, and the powerful, rhythmic tempo was handled with perfect aplomb. One could almost picture the trolls marching briskly to the tempestuous beat.

The next item was the evening’s showpiece: Grieg’s Violin and Piano Sonata no. 3 in C minor. Of the three sonatas, this was his favorite. Based on Norwegian folk melodies and dance rhythms, the sonata has two movements with the second gradually progressing towards an impetuous finale. Though both movements are fast and intense, each is dotted with slower lyrical passages woven around a central motif. The motifs are beautiful, if not sublime, especially the first. The first movement has two little cadenzas (piano) which tug at the heartstrings. A range of feelings and emotions as well as tempi are embodied in this quintessentially romantic piece. Hence – a tough one to perform. The heroic opening was played with such grace and power by the duo that it completely gripped the audience, and there was no letting go from that point on. So compelling was the music that the miraculous spell broke only when it ended.

The duo slipped into top gear and left the audience breathless with this powerful rendition of a complex and emotionally intense work. The pianist and violinist blended into a cohesive whole to create moments of pure ecstasy. Complementing Le Magadure’s wizardry was Diluka’s silken touch. The teamwork was imbued with a unifying, elemental force that bordered on the divine. The audience was so moved that it rewarded the duo with a thundering ovation.

The sonata was followed by Tchaikovsky’s Melody – which comprises the third part of Opus 42 and is noted for its eloquence and emotive power. The duo captured the spirit of this music with uncommon feeling and superior teamwork.

There were three more pieces – two by Kreisler (Liebesfreud and Miniature Viennese March) and one by Monti (Csardas) – to which the duo gave a magical touch. There was a rapturous applause followed by a delightful encore (Kreisler’s evergreen Libeslied).

Then came the wine and the food. Kudos to Shani Diluka and Gabriel Le Magadure for presenting this concert at very short notice. The audience was blessed to hear these two great musicians play in such elegant surroundings. One wonders how the violinist could have performed with such poise despite being ill. In retrospect, this was an incredible feat, which speaks volumes for the man.

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