Chamber music festival ends in grand manner with Franck quintet

Sun Jun 10, 2012 at 11:41 am

By Gerald Fisher

Vadim Gluzman and colleagues concluded the North Shore Chamber Music Festival Saturday night in Northbrook.

A thrilling performance of one of chamber music’s greatest masterpieces concluded the third and final program at this year’s North Shore Chamber Music Festival.

This second annual festival, dedicated to the memory of a legendary name in Chicago music, Geoffrey Fushi of the Bein and Fushi string franchise, proved that chamber concerts can bring in a large and appreciative paying audience. The Village Presbyterian Church of Northbrook was packed with patrons of all ages Saturday night, who not only demonstrated their enthusiasm for the performances, but willingly stayed on after the last notes for an extensive Q&A with the artists.

There was something very much like a Marlboro Festival collegiality among Saturday’s performers, who varied widely in age and experience, but not at all in commitment and first-rate musicality as they rose to the challenge of a demanding and substantial program.

The evening began with a vigorous attack on Stravinsky’s L’histoire du Soldat in the composer’s made-to-order suite for clarinet, violin and piano. The festival’s organizers, pianist Angela Yoffe and violinist Vadim Gluzman were joined by clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein in a fiercely dynamic take on this astringent music in a performance, which, for all its dynamism, lacked perhaps the last ounce of tenderness and humor.

Tenderness was certainly not missing in the performance of Oswaldo Golijov’s appealing Tenebrae for soprano, clarinet and string quartet. This is a classically gorgeous piece in which Gluzman and Fiterstein were joined by violinist Sibbi Bernhardsson, cellist Mark Kosower, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and most notably by soprano Hyunah Yu whose pure soprano floated in a vocalise above the tonally contrasting strings

A lot of verbiage was expended in introducing this as a piece of new music, while in fact it is no more “modern” than the music of Canteloube in its time. The lines were both conventional and eternal, and were impeccably realized by all the artists individually and together.

The music of Astor Piazzolla is a surefire audience-pleaser. His Adios Nonino and Fuga & Misterio were heard in an arrangement for 12 strings, which pushes the boundaries of what is called chamber music and sounds more like a chamber orchestra. The music’s lush and sentimental swirling and tango rhythms were superbly captured by the multigenerational group called the Next Generation String Ensemble.

The crown of the evening and just possibly of the whole festival was the deeply passionate performance of Cesar Franck’s Piano Quintet. Here the commitment and intensity of the performers were a fine match for the inherent power of the piece and the audience was transported into the soundworld of a highly original composer.

The artists were pianist Adam Neiman, violinists Gluzman and Bernhardsson violist Pajaro-van de Stadt, with a technique and maturity far beyond her years, and the Cleveland Orchestra’s principal Mark Kosower added a firm cello to a performance brimming with life

Although the first movement is written in sonata form, the impression is more that of a succession of extensive motives repeated randomly rather than fully planned out. The movement’s high points were taken at white-hot intensity which built up to an almost orchestral conclusion.

The more introspective second movement was tender and romantic yet simple but emotive in the hands of this remarkable ensemble. The dynamic last movement, marked con fuoco, required and received all that is essential to this work’s performance: technical fluency, emotional commitment and a complete grasp of the work’s unique structure.

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