Danielle Belen returns to 3R stage for solo recital

 

It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since Danielle Belen last gave a full solo recital here. True, we’ve heard her play short pieces and ensemble pieces during the Center Stage Strings music camps, but for me at least that’s not enough. It’s like taking the jacket cover for the book or a trailer for the full feature. 

Danielle is a mesmerizing performer with an uncanny ability to transport an audience. What you really want is a comfortable seat and a moment to clear your thoughts, knowing you are just about to spend a full hour with her.

She’s going all out for this concert, performing one incredibly moving virtuoso piece after another: the Sonata for violin in A Major by César Franck, two movements from Prokofiev’s historically evocative Sonata No. 1, Saint-Saëns’s charming Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Ravel’s wild and humorous Tzigane.

The program opens with the immortal Franck Sonata. Even if you’ve never heard classical music, this piece will get to you, it’s that beautiful. From the audience, it’s a story of falling in love, with all of the hope and uncertainty, all of the joy and disappointment that we’ve all experienced. 

The emotional appeal is direct and unambiguous. This is one of those classics that speaks directly to the heart. By turns pensive, embracing, anxious, striving, and tender, it is beautifully lyrical from start to finish. The euphoric last movement is unforgettable.

The Prokofiev Sonata was written at the height of Stalin’s brutal purges, when Soviet family members were turning in other family members for not praising Stalin or the Politburo with enough enthusiasm. The opening movement is tense, chilling, with a briefly ethereal section that simply cannot last; the second movement is angry, harsh, and oppressive, an overt condemnation of all things Soviet. 

Knowing how carefully Stalin censored his artists and composers, it’s a wonder this piece ever made it into the violin repertoire, or that Prokofiev survived to write again. It took a supreme act of courage to publish it.

Ravel’s Tzigane, a short yet wildly humorous piece, makes demands on a violinist that only a few are able meet. The difficulties are compound — complex fingering, dauntingly precise bowing, unusual rhythms, wild double stopping intersected with lightning-fast pizzicato, not to mention the need for split second phrasing for it to make musical sense.

The violin opens solo, heralding the coming of something ominous, dark, and brooding. In the melody you can hear an echo of distant gypsies in the deep woods of Romania. 

Then, suddenly, a bird’s cheerful singing brightens the mood but for just a moment. Darkness returns, sharp-edged, until the piano enters and you soon find yourself on the edge of firelight in a gypsy camp just as some old man starts clowning for slapstick laughs. Now the revels begin, dancing, whirling, not entirely sober. 

Ravel has fun here. There’s a fully inebriated section about as comical as anything in music. It spins and whirls out of control before finally collapsing in a well-earned exhausted heap.

You are unlikely to ever hear these pieces played better. Danielle Belen is an irresistible force on stage, the kind of performer that will leave you shaking your head in wonder.

Thanks to a generous sponsorship from Bank of the Sierra, children, students, and an adult accompanying them are admitted free. Otherwise, tickets are $12, available at Chumps, online at www.threeriversperformingarts.org, or at the door.

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