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Music review: Pianists Mark Robson and Steven Vanhauwaert at Le Salon de Musiques

May 16, 2011 |  2:57 pm

For the season finale of Le Salon de Musiques at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s chamber-music friendly fifth floor on Sunday, artistic director and pianist Francois Chouchan programmed two masterpieces of the two-piano genre: Mozart’s Sonata in D Major and Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 1 (“Fantaisie-tableaux”).

6_full Chouchan himself had planned on joining Steven Vanhauwaert as the other half of the duo, but when a family emergency summoned him back to Paris, he chose Mark Robson to replace him. Robson, a founding member of Piano Spheres, is currently in Liszt mode, with a free recital of song transcriptions scheduled for June 5 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And Vanhauwaert, a regular guest performer for the Jacaranda series, recently released an impressive disc including works by Schubert, Schumann and Liszt.

Still, it was remarkable that after only four rehearsals, Vanhauwaert and Robson could give such exuberant and sensitive accounts of both scores. Mozart’s robust, inventive Sonata became a perfect vehicle for these superb pianists, whose resonant ensemble playing sounded like a mini-orchestra. They conveyed a galloping energy in the work’s outer movements.

For some reason, one piano was about three feet longer than the other, so in a spirit of equality, Vanhauwaert took the larger Steinway in the Mozart, switching with Robson for the Rachmaninoff. “Size matters,” as Vanhauwaert quipped in a lively champagne-fueled post-concert discussion, a signature event at Le Salon, along with a Patina-catered sandwich and dessert buffet.

The pianists gave an uninhibited, richly sonorous reading of Rachmaninoff’s enjoyably florid neo-Romantic early Suite. In the Byronic Adagio, “A Night of Love,” Robson on the first (larger) piano led a Liszt-sized love duet that rose to a triple forte climax. And in the operatic Largo di molto “Tears,” the duo conveyed a young man’s idea of romantic despair. The performance was capped off by their joyously pealing bell effects in the "Russian Easter" finale.

Since its tentative start in October, Le Salon de Musiques has grown in stature. I've sampled two previous offerings, both excellent. But Sunday's piano-duo recital was really buzzing. A German consul was there. The audience Q&A was lively and intelligent, kids were in the audience -- some attending their first classical music performance -- and the young scholar chosen to introduce the music, Julius Reder Carlson, was focused and insightful. He was about to defend his dissertation for a PhD this week at UCLA, and told me "this was good practice." I also overheard several budding musicians asking Vanhauwaert and Robson questions such as "How do you communicate to each other across two concert grands while you're performing?"

Le Salon just announced its second season of monthly concerts. It looks like the series has come into its own.

-- Rick Schultz

The 2011-12 season for Le Salon de Musiques, all at 4 p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Oct. 16

Brahms Sonata-Scherzo “ FAE” (Sonatensatz) Opus Posthume and Brahms Piano Quintet In F Minor Op 34: Phillip Levy & Julie Gigante (violins), Andrew Duckles (viola), David Low (cello), Rina Dokshitsky (piano)

Nov. 13
Schubert Sonata for Cello & Piano  Arpeggione  In A –Moll  D 821 and Grieg Cello Sonata Opus 36 In A Minor : Antonio Lysy (cello) and Francois Chouchan (piano)           

Dec. 11
Mozart Violin Sonata Kv 304 In E Minor and Franck Violin Sonata: Phillip Levy (violin) and Francois Chouchan (piano)  

Jan. 22, 2012
“A La Cour De Versailles“ Baroque program with a pantomime for two dancers (Linda Tomko And Jill Chadroff) with a Baroque ensemble performing Rameau, Duphly, Gluck, Grety and Lully   

Feb. 26, 2012
Poulenc Flute Sonata With Piano and Arnold Bax Elegiac Trio for Flute, Harp and Viola and Faure Piano Quartet No. 1 In C Minor Opus 15: Steven Vanhauwaert  (piano), Marcia Dickstein (harp), Pamela Vliek (flute), Tereza Stanislav (Violin,) Robert Brophy (viola) and John Walz (cello) 

March 25, 2012
Schumann Liederkreis Opus 39 for Piano and Soprano: Elissa Johnson (soprano) and Francois Chouchan (piano), Schumann Piano Quintet in E Flat Major Opus 44: Robert Cani &  Rafael Rishik (violins), Robert Brophy (viola). Paul Cohen (cello)

April 22, 2012
Arensky:  Variations On a Theme by Tchaikosky Opus 35 for Violin, Viola and Two Cellos and Tchaikovsky String Sextet  “ Souvenir De Florence": Phillip Levy & Julie Gigante (violins), Andrew Duckles & Evan Wilson (violas), Timothy Landauer & David Low (cellos)

May 20, 2012
J.Brahms Cello Sonata In E Minor Opus 38 and Myaskovsky  Cello Sonata  N.2  In A Major Opus  81; John Walz (cello,) Francois Chouchan piano)

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Photo: Steven Vanhauwaert. Credit: