Chicago Chamber Musicians reveal the more intimate side of Bruckner

Mon Feb 15, 2010 at 5:06 pm

By Gerald Fisher

The finest chamber music is produced by musicians who have the uncanny ability to live and breathe as one. There is a magic in the relationships of great chamber ensembles that involves the artists watching, listening and reacting to each other in the moment as communicants in an almost mystical ritual.

These elements were manifest in Sunday evening’s concert by the Chicago Chamber Musicians at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. The highlight of the evening was a revelatory performance of Bruckner’s rarely heard String Quintet.

Bruckner’s sole mature chamber work was written in 1879 – around the time of his Seventh Symphony—yet the Quintet is as crucial a pendant to the Austrian composer’s symphonies as the Siegfried Idyll is to Wagner’s operas.

Various echoes of his symphonic works seem to glow fitfully throughout the piece, which veers from darkly tragic to folkish. The second-movement Scherzo even includes a Landler and an almost danceable Minuet. The Adagio is often cited as a pinnacle of expression, but in this performance the surrounding movements all had their strengths, and the piece stood up as a whole.

The CCM strings—Jasmine Lin and Joseph Genualdi, violins, Rami Solomonow and Yukiko Ogura, violas, and Chen-Hou Lee, cello—gave their best in a persuasive and assured performance that revealed the String Quintet as a minor masterpiece -– somber yet graceful and delicate, with the vital dash of assertive insistence that makes it Bruckner’s own.

The concert began with the Partita in B-flat Major for winds by Franz Krommer. In his day, the Moravian composer was considered a rival of Beethoven, and, in fact, the Partita, written around 1794, is a good example of the kind of occasional music that Beethoven supplanted.

Attractively scored for paired oboes (Scott Hostetler and Anne Bach), clarinets (Larry Combs and Julie DeRoche), bassoons (Dennis Michel and Lewis Kirk) and horns (Gail Williams and Gabrielle Webster) the partita is given a sonic edge by a single trumpet (the excellent Charles Geyer) soaring over the solid beat provided by bassist Peter Lloyd. Charming motifs rather than all-out melodies are elaborated into a little symphony, and the CCM were spot-on from start to finish.

The group re-formed for another Czech composer, Dvorak, in the Op. 47 Bagatelles, originally written for strings and harmonium. While the piece sounds best with the strange sonorities of the original keyboard instrument, the transcription by Geoffrey Emerson substitutes a group of winds. This makes for a larger sound that only occasionally gets in the way of the simple melodies, yet the musicians had a sure feel for the sentimental expression of this domestic house music.

The program will be repeated 7: 30 p.m. Monday at Gottlieb Concert Hall at the Merit School of Music.; 312-225-5226.

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