Chamber Music Charleston begin new season 

Off and Running

As the new concert season gets under way, one of the names to watch is Chamber Music Charleston, an organization that has lately developed into one of the Lowcountry's most visible and far-reaching performing entities.

Their ambitious programs include a house concert series that offers chamber masterpieces in the intimacy of Charleston's many historic homes — while their Holy City series celebrates our many churches as performance venues.

Nobody's done a better job of tailoring their artistry to their community's unique environment. I was delighted to catch the first of their church events Friday evening at West Ashley's Rutledge Baptist Church.

CMC's core performers are top-notch: mostly moonlighting members of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. Two of them were on duty Friday: flute (and piccolo) sorceress Regina Helcher and cello section stalwart Tim O'Malley. Joining them was Irina Pevzner, one of our finest resident pianists.

The evening got going with a pair of glittering Baroque-era jewels. First came the Cello Sonata No. 5 in E Minor by Vivaldi. While the music's minor key made for moments of solemnity and sadness, Italian master's irrepressible energy and high spirits still won out in the end.

O'Malley delivered it with passion and precision, achieving some lovely cello "singing" in the stately, yet pensive opening slow movement. He got sensitive and steady continuo support from Pevzner.

Enter Ms. Helcher, for an inspired go at Bach's heady Flute Sonata in A Major.

She was in top form, rendering her tricky part with blistering technique and dulcet tone. Bach, unlike most Baroque composers, made his keyboard players equal partners in his complex contrapuntal schemes, assigning them much more than the usual simple continuo-style chords and bass lines. And Pevzner made the most of it, matching Helcher tit for tat in realizing the piece's scintillating polyphony.

It was as if they were playing musical tag in the fast movements, chasing each other around joyfully in near-perfect synch.

All three players returned to finish things off with a colorful 20th-century French marvel: Philippe Gaubert's ravishing Three Watercolors. It smacked strongly of his more famous compatriots Debussy and Ravel ­— but with a romantic streak that goes back to Franck and Faure.

Our trio delivered its three contrasting movements with juicy and evocative playing — though the rich piano part tended to dominate in a couple of spots.

The only real disappointment was the rather sparse crowd. But, hey — CMC's ambitious season is just getting started. Stay tuned. I'll be telling you much more about them in the months to come.


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