Chicago Classical Review » » Italian-Russian relations sparkle at North Shore Chamber Music Festival
Throughout the pandemic disruptions of local ensembles over the past two years, the North Shore Chamber Music Festival has led the return to live performances The series has offered scaled-down performances for limited live audiences throughout 2020-21 , and celebrated its tenth anniversary last summer – a belated but no less significant year. Returning to Northbrook Village Presbyterian Church to enjoy their eleventh season, it felt like we never really lost touch.
Hats off to and immense gratitude to violinist/artistic director Vadim Gluzman and pianist/executive director Angela Yoffe for stubbornly presenting live music amid fluctuating pandemic restrictions, especially when many other ensembles opted for completely set to zero.
On Friday evening, the NSCMF presented the central concert of its traditional June stand at three performances at the Presbyterian Church in the village of Northbrook. Entitled “Tchaikovsky and his friends”, the program intelligently explored the cross-pollination between Russian and Italian composers, an unexpected and fruitful connection to highlight.
The evening opened with Mikhail Glinka Pathetic Threesome in D minor, with clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg, cellist Ani Aznavoorian and pianist Adam Neiman. Glinka wrote the score in 1832, during a stay in Milan following a disappointment in love, hence the appellation “Pathétique” of the generally optimistic work (as explained by Shterenberg in some introductory remarks). Generally recognized as the founder of Russian national music, Glinka had a significant influence on the generation of Russian composers who followed him: Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, etc.
Glinka’s own output, however, may seem small compared to the immense creativity he inspired, and that is the case with the Pathetic trio. Three quicker moves give the impression of a stormier but less sophisticated Haydn, although they received sensitive treatment from all three on Friday night, and particularly benefited from Neiman’s exceptionally articulate technique. The centerpiece of the work is his dazzling operatic Largo. Here, Shterenberg and Aznavoorian created what felt like an intimate scene, their soaring lines singing with melancholy. Neiman’s warm and vibrant accompaniment was a perfect support for his colleagues’ flights.
Respighi’s String Quartet No. 3 in D major followed, in an exceptional interpretation of the Escher String Quartet. Respighi’s chamber music receives less airtime than it deserves, as his smaller-scale works are a welcome contrast to the brilliance of the world’s best-known symphonic poems. “Roman Trilogy”. The orchestral color of these is largely due to the composer’s studies with Rimsky-Korsakov—another Italian-Russian connection—but Respighi impresses as much with four string players as with orchestral forces.
The Escher’s performance was flawless. The opening Allegro moderato is an inviting, almost pastoral movement, and Escher’s four gentlemen captured its calm, reflective spirit. The ensuing Tema con variazioni is more tense and harmonically troubled, and the Quartet organically follows the nervous ebb and flow of the score.
An intermezzo follows, although it was not on the program, which may have confused the audience. Here, Escher’s flexibility and fluidity were on full display, their collective sonic brilliance bringing Respighi’s crystal-clear writing to life. The work ends with a galloping tarantella and a coda which recapitulates the themes of the previous three movements. The Escher dispatched it with aplomb, earning grateful and well-deserved applause.
The evening ended with Tchaikovsky Souvenir from Florence, an obvious Russian-Italian mix. Gluzman himself occupied the first violin chair with his 1690 “ex-Leopold Auer” Stradivarius, the same instrument used in the 1892 premiere of Tchaikovsky’s sextet. He was joined by second violinist Julian Rhee, one of NSCMF’s Arkady Fomin Fellowship recipients; cellists Aznavoorian and Brook Speltz, the latter from Escher; and violists Pierre Lapointe, also from Escher, and Masumi Per Rostad, formerly of the Pacifica Quartet and now with Eastman.
The performance was barnstorming, brimming with energy from bar one to bar two. Gluzman was in his element leading this music, playing with assertive flair and panache throughout. He and Aznavoorian sang a beautiful cantilena in the Adagio cantabile et con moto, and the six players masterfully captured the fairytale aspects of the Allegro moderato that followed. The final, almost demonic Allegro vivace unfolded with enormous force, the six musicians collectively digging into their instruments and leading to a climax of visceral impact.
The Côte-Nord Chamber Music Festival ends Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with “Carnival,” a program featuring Saint-Saens Anima Carnivallsas well as works by LeClair, del Aguila, Vartabed, Turina, Barber, Chopin and Sarasate. nscmf.org
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