North Shore Chamber Festival debuts with impassioned performances

Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 11:09 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Vadim Gluzman performed works of Stravinsky and Chausson Wednesday night at the North Shore Chamber Music Festival in Northbrook.

It’s heartening to see that there are still people willing to start up new musical ventures, even as these difficult economic times for the arts continue.

Thanks to violinist Vadim Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe, local aficionados can now add the North Shore Chamber Music Festival to the roster of annual summer events. The married couple’s new series made an impressive debut Wednesday night in the first of three programs running through Saturday in Northbrook.

Gluzman has stated that one reason he founded this festival was for the personal pleasure of performing chamber music with his closest colleagues. To be sure, there was a convivial feeling to the evening with relaxed introductions to the works and fiery and committed performances that made manifest the players’ musical rapport.

Wednesday’s opening program drew a sizable turnout. The Village Presbyterian Church offers an inspired venue for chamber music with a clear and transparent acoustic and fine sight lines, the players performing on a raised platform.

Stravinsky’s Suite italienne proved just the right work to kick off the new series. Drawn from the Russian composer’s ballet Pulcinella, Gluzman and Yoffe brought out the rhythmic vitality and piquant charm of Stravinsky’s retooling of Pergolesi’s music. Gluzman was particularly inspired in the Gavotte with his light bowing, playful touch and a deftly varied take on the variations.

Gluzman has stated that he wants the festival to present not just the standard chamber cornerstones but some rarely heard works as well, and Anton Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2 certainly qualifies.

Written a year after Tchaikovsky’s death, Arensky’s Op. 35 is dedicated to his celebrated compatriot’s memory, and the quartet has a clear valedictory feeling. The sense of somber homage is enhanced by the unusual scoring for violin, viola, and two cellos.

I’m not convinced that Arensky’s quartet is an undiscovered masterpiece, with the work being hobbled by an episodic, at times ramshackle, first movement. But the central set of seven variations on a Tchaikovsky piano theme from his Album for Children is terrific — imaginative, bracingly varied and cleverly laid out for all four players. After a somber opening, the quartet ends virtuosically with Arensky mining a famous Russian church hymn, most familiar from the opening “Slava” chorus of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.

Arensky’s work could not have received more inspired advocacy with a superb ensemble of violinist Ilya Kaler, violist Atar Arad, and cellists Wendy Warner and Ani Aznavoorian. If the first movement ‘s transitions weren’t entirely airtight Wednesday, the players surely underlined the Russian gloom and pensive introspection. The variations on Tchakovsky’s plaintive theme were assayed with great feeling and dedication, particularly Aznavoorian’s soulful cello solo and Kaler bringing tender nostalgia and sweet tone to the final variation.

Gluzman introduced Chausson’s Concert for violin, piano and string quartet by stating that it is an unapologetically Romantic work that needs to be played that way.

That the Israeli violinist certainly did, with a rich tone and big gestures that brought out the surging, rhapsodic essence of Chausson’s score. Yoffe matched her husband’s intensity in equally impassioned keyboard playing throughout as did the quartet (violinists Lisa Shihoten and Elina Lev, violist Rose Armbrust and cellist Aznavoorian) with well-upholstered string textures and high-powered, expressive support.

The North Shore Chamber Music Festival continues 7:30 p.m. Friday with Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F minor, Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, Lera Auerbach’s Postscriptum, and Schumann’s Piano Quintet.; 847-370-3984.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “North Shore Chamber Festival debuts with impassioned performances”

  1. Posted Jun 10, 2011 at 7:23 pm by David Rubin

    Opening Night was amazing! I was taken to a different place and time by the passionate performance of Yoffe and Gluzman. Truly wonderful!

  2. Posted Jun 11, 2011 at 9:22 pm by Cynthia Wiley

    Congratulations on a wonderful Festival and opening concert. I am sure there will be many more inspiring concerts from you both and the many talented artists. Wishing you continued success!

Leave a Comment