Chicago Chamber Musicians present an impassioned evening of French music

Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 11:12 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” was performed by the Chicago Chamber Musicians Sunday night in Evanston.

Sweet melodies mingled with tormented expressions of wartime strife as Chicago Chamber Musicians presented an ambitious French program Sunday night at Pick-Staiger Hall. Pianist Natalie Zhu is taking the keyboard role in this program for CCM’s artistic co-director Meng-Chieh Liu.

Saint-Saëns’ Sonata for bassoon and piano, Op. 168, is one of his final compositions, a charming work that beautifully balances the roles and contrasting timbres of both players.  Zhu and bassoonist Dennis Michel approached the sonata with a sense of like-minded grace. Michel’s melodic agility was perfectly suited for the gentler passages, but his playing could have used more color and expressive focus at times, particularly in the upper register.

Though Ravel initially struggled to complete his Piano Trio in A minor at the start of World War I, he produced a masterpiece that is rich in color, diverse in thematic richness and distinctive in construction.

Violinist Jasmine Lin, cellist Clancy Newman and pianist Zhu created an interpretation of Ravel’s Trio that conveyed the array of colors and deep emotions that this piece demands. The three musicians fluently shifted from great boldness and instrumental brilliance to soft whispers shaded in mystery. The CCM players worked cohesively to create an impassioned landscape of nostalgia, contention and desolation that felt authentic in unexpected ways.

Olivier Messiaen wrote his Quartet for the End of Time while in a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. Scored for violin, cello, piano and clarinet, the quartet contains an amazing range of intricate emotions, daunting even for the most polished of chamber groups, and the skillful ensemble of Zhu, Lin, Newman and clarinetist Larry Combs were fully up to the challenge.

The bird song that opens the quartet’s first movement, Liturgie de Cristal, is a deceptively playful prelude that prepares the listener for the tempestuous sections ahead.  In the fifth movement, Louange á l’ Éternité de Jésus,, a duet between cello and piano, Newman’s cumulative vibrato and Zhu’s crescendo into the climax of the movement proved both striking and heart-breaking.

Concluding the evening, Zhu and Lin’s playing in the eighth movement, Louange á l’Immortalité de Jésus, recaptures much of the fifth movement’s pleading character. Lin’s violin filled the hall in a unique way, plaintive and simple yet with an intense and all-consuming climax, as the final muted tones drifted away.

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

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One Response to “Chicago Chamber Musicians present an impassioned evening of French music”

  1. Posted Oct 20, 2011 at 10:00 am by Brian Mitchell

    Wish I could have been there. That this was such a fine concert does not surprise me at all as I have heard three of these superb artists, Natalie, Jasmine and Clancy, perform often at the Kingston Chamber Music Festival at the University of Rhode Island.

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