Sterling Brahms opens Rush Hour summer series

Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 8:47 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Johannes Brahms

In our hectic modern lives, a two-hour concert is often more time than harried downtown workers can spare and the tickets more than one can afford.

Enter the Rush Hour Concerts at St. James Cathedral. The free summer series, now in its 11th season, offers short concerts of less than an hour starting at 5:45 p.m., ideal for those just leaving the office.

Under artistic and executive director Deborah Sobol, the Rush Hour programs present a bracing diversity of repertoire, with this year’s lineup ranging breezily from Chopin, Schumann, and de Falla to vocal works of Renaissance Spain, Honegger, Frank Martin, Janacek and contemporary works by Kevin Puts and Paul Lansky.

On Tuesday, the series began its second decade with a sterling performance of Brahms’ String Sextet No. 1, performed largely by Chicago Symphony Orchestra members.

Written in 1860 at a volatile time in Brahms’ life, the Sextet in B-flat major is the composer’s first chamber work for strings—predating his three quartets—largely because he hesitated to enter a field so dominated by Schubert and Beethoven.

Yet Brahms’ mastery is immediately apparent in the opening theme for cellos and its seamless development. This sextet is a closely unified work with tight thematic connections between the framing movements, yet there is a freshness and a spontaneous flow to the music, similar to his contemporaneous Serenade No. 1.

The performance Tuesday night by violinists Akiko Tarumoto and Nathan Cole, violists Yukiko Ogura and Carol Cook, and cellists Kenneth Olsen and Brant Taylor was simply terrific, highly polished while offering an ideal blend of tonal elegance and expressive warmth.

These fine players showed a close empathy and idiomatic touch with Brahms’ music, and were clearly enjoying themselves with much smiling as the themes passed back and forth among them. The performance was full of wonderful touches as with the delicacy of the pizzicatos near the close of the opening Allegro, the febrile folkish quality brought to the Scherzo and the relaxed good cheer of the finale.

Kudos also to the well-behaved audience, which was the most attentive and respectful I’ve experienced all season, with nary a cough nor premature clap disrupting the music.

The Rush Hour Concerts at St. James Cathedral continue at 5:45 p.m. Tuesdays through August 31. For a complete list of programs, go to

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Sterling Brahms opens Rush Hour summer series”

  1. Posted Jun 01, 2010 at 11:21 pm by Uh...

    I agree that coughing can be distracting at times, but I think it’s a bit much to call it disrespectful. Sometimes you just can’t help it!

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