Combustible Brahms closes North Shore Chamber Festival in style

Sun Jun 12, 2011 at 12:25 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Vadim Gluzman and colleagues performed music of Milhaud, Prokofiev and Brahms Saturday night at the North Shore Chamber Music Festival.

The North Shore Chamber Music Festival wrapped its inaugural season in style with another fizzing program Saturday night in Northbrook.

The festival, helmed by the husband-and-wife team of violinist Vadim Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe, makes a welcome addition to the summer music season, and Saturday’s closing concert at the Village Presbyterian Church was on the same high level established at Wednesday’s opening event.

The evening began with a relative rarity, Darius Milhaud’s Suite for violin, clarinet and piano. Light in spirits but not ephemeral, clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg, Gluzman and Yoffe gave this buoyant work just the right touch. Gluzman and Shterenberg brought a light melancholy to the Divertissement, whirling bravura to the Jeu section and stylishly underlined the jazz-tinged blue notes in Milhaud’s jaunty finale.

Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 2 is such an effective fiddle showpiece that it’s easy to forget that it was originally conceived for flute. (As Gluzman noted, all violinists have the great Russian David Oistrakh to thank for convincing Prokofiev to retool his Flute Sonata for the violin.)

Gluzman and Yoffe were clearly in sync with the sonata’s duality, bringing out both the elegant lyricism and the assertive virtuosity. The Scherzo was thrown off with frenetic energy by Gluzman, and the Andante had the apt enigmatic quality. The outstanding performance was rounded off with a driving and dramatic finale with full-throttle playing by both musicians. Gluzman’s remarkable instrument — the “ex Leopold Auer” Stradivari — was displayed to especially fine advantage, the violin’s blend of gleam and sinew well suited to this uber-Russian music.

As with all superb concert venues, after being struck by the initial favorable impression made by the Village Presbyterian Church acoustic Wednesday night, one proceeded to forget about the room and just concentrate on the festival’s inspired music-making.

But the performance of Brahms’ Piano Quintet that closed the festival really made one appreciate the church’s superb sonics anew —rarely will one hear every string line in this work emerge with the kind of clarity and transparency heard Saturday night.

The superb lineup of musicians—-pianist William Wolfram, violinists Gluzman and Lisa Shihoten, violist Atar Arad and cellist Wendy Warner — made the myriad riches of this work resound with great impact, putting across the burnished lyricism as surely as the bravura.

One can quibble that the opening bars of the Andante could have been more rapt and at times one wanted more weight and ballast from Warner’s cello. But the ensemble for the most part proved a cohesive and well-matched group, and there were several inspired moments—the tenderness of the string playing in the Andante, the swagger to the Scherzo’s march-like main theme, and the fluency and natural ebb and flow of the finale, leading to a combustible electricity at the coda.

All the players distinguished themselves —Arad’s viola work was especially memorable — and this terrific Brahms performance made a fine closer to a memorable first season for the North Shore Chamber Music Festival. With the Pacifica Quartet taking part in 2012, it should be an equally inspired summer event not to be missed.

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