Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chamber III Delights

Mr. Koob gets his timbers shivered

Posted by Lindsay Koob on Wed, May 27, 2009 at 8:24 AM

Day four of the festival brought us our third chamber program (only eight more to go), continuing this year's parade of works from Dr. Wadsworth's final wish-list of favorite chamber "cherries." Come hear 'em while you can 'cause somebody else will be picking the fruit next year.

For starters, cello charmer Alisa Weilerstein showed off her champion's chops in a cunning solo piece: Omaramor, by Argentina native Osvaldo Golijov, one of today's hottest tunesmiths. Mind you, writing a convincing and coherent piece for a single stringed instrument is a supreme challenge: one's sonic and harmonic possibilities are rather limited.

But Golijov used every trick in the book (and then some) in crafting this one. The piece covered an enormous range of tempos, moods, and effects, but all of them true to his Hispanic heritage. After a meditative start, the music quickly took on the unique musical flavors of his native Buenos Aires, complete with sultry tango rhythms and harmonics. Moods and impressions ranged from soft sensuality to violent passion. Alisa delivered it (from memory) with amazing dexterity and sonic variety, making it hard to believe that only one instrument was at work.

Enter viola sorceress Hsin-Yun Huang, for a jolly go at German Baroque master G. P. Telemann's Viola Concerto in G Major. Serving as her backup "orchestra" was the versatile St. Lawrence String Quartet, reinforced by bass fiddle virtuoso Anthony Manzo and Ana Maria Fonseca on harpsichord. It's about time we got to hear her play; she's been restricted to page-turning (and hand-clapping) thus far. Too bad the Memminger's somewhat cavernous acoustics tend to swallow up a harpsichord's light and tinkly tones.

Following the usual "slow-fast-slow-fast" movement sequence of the era, our players switched back and forth between elegant lyricism and joyful romping. Huang made her velvet-voiced instrument sing and scamper, making me wonder why the poor viola stands as forgotten stepsister to the violin.

Next up was Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock) by Franz Schubert: the final complete work he left us before his outrageously early death at age 31. It's written for solo soprano and piano, with clarinet obbligato. Wonder-soprano Courtenay Budd did the vocal honors, enhanced by Jose Franch-Ballester's dulcet clarinet; Wadsworth presided at the Steinway.

I've already blogged here about the goosebumps that Budd often gives me — well how about a total, shiver-me-timbers body rush? That's exactly what one of her ecstatic high notes gave me this time. And with Jose's lustrous clarinet tones echoing her vocal lines, plus Charles' gentle and loving piano support, the music took me straight back to the place of my musical birth (I was blessed to grow up in Vienna, Schubert's hometown).

The grand finale was the most famous violin sonata ever written. As Associate Director Geoff Nuttall (again, the designated deejay) reminded us, Ludwig van Beethoven's revolutionary "Kreutzer" sonata even served as partial inspiration for a scandalous Tolstoy novella. The glittering performers were violinist supreme Chee-Yun and piano magician Anne-Marie McDermott.

The opening movement's stormy whirlwind gave way to a gentle, theme-and-variations central movement, reminding us of the sweet and lyrical soul that lies beneath Beethoven's brusque and garrulous outer façade. The happy, headlong finale brought the piece to a rousing finish — and the screaming audience to its feet.

Chalk up another winner for Wadsworth and friends.

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