Schumann spotlighted in stalwart salute by Chicago Chamber Musicians

Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm

By Dennis Polkow

Music of Robert Schumann was spotlighted in Chicago Chamber Musicians’ program Sunday night in Evanston.

As they have done throughout this year’s Schumann bicentennial, the Chicago Chamber Musicians once again saluted the Romantic master in a program presented Sunday night at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

The centerpiece of the evening were two Schumann works, the Piano Trio No. 2 from 1847 and his Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano in A-flat Major, composed two years later.

Unlike its introspective and expansive predecessor, Schumann’s second Piano Trio is relatively Classical in its form and effect.  Though somewhat surprising from a composer that so embodies the very spirit of 19th century Romanticism, the work demonstrates that when desired, Schumann could be an exquisite Classical craftsman who could place expression at the service of symmetry.

Violinist Jasmine Lin, cellist Clancy Newman and pianist Meng-Chieh Liu made an eloquent case for the piece, all the more so because of the restraint shown, always allowing the music to emerge in a transparent manner.  The inner movements were particularly effective in their lyrical beauty and for each colleague’s ability to blend in supportively while shining individually when the spotlight was on them.

Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro may well be, as French horn player and CCM founding member Gail Williams says in a program quote, “quite possibly the finest piece ever written for horn.”

Gail Williams

What a pleasure it was to hear solo horn playing of such assurance, self-confidence and dynamic nuance to say nothing of the flexibility and fluidity.  William approached the score not as an instrumental showpiece, but as an expressive piece of music that just happens to be written for horn, and her glorious performance reminded us what this instrument is supposed to sound like at its very best. Liu’s stalwart piano accompaniment was right there every step of the way.

The program opened with four of Bruch’s Eight Pieces for clarinet, viola and piano. Former CSO principal clarinetist and CCM founding member Larry Combs was in the spotlight with his signature tone put at the service of this dark, foreboding music presented in a melancholy manner and perfectly complemented by violist Rami Solomonow and Liu.

Dohnányi’s Piano Quintet, closed out the evening. A contemporary of Bartók and Kodály, Dohnányi never shared their fascination for native folk music nor musical exploration, yet this expansive and unabashedly Romantic student piece received a spirited traversal.

The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Monday night, Nov. 15 at Merit School of Music’s Gottlieb Concert Hall, 38 S. Peoria;; 312-225-5226.

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