Lamsma, CSO members make fine team at Winter Chamber Music Festival

Mon Jan 19, 2015 at 11:39 am

By Tim Sawyier

Violinists Simone Lamsma was joined by CSO members  at the WInter Chamber Music Festival Sunday night in Evanston.
Violinist Simone Lamsma was joined by CSO members at the WInter Chamber Music Festival Sunday night in Evanston.

Northwestern University’s 2015 Winter Chamber Music Festival concluded its second weekend of concerts Sunday night at Evanston’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma headlined the affair, joined by five guests from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

CSO members Stephanie Jeong (associate concertmaster), Yukiko Ogura (violist, currently acting principal of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra), and Brant Taylor (cellist) opened the evening with a persuasive performance of Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor, Op. 9 No. 3. From the menacing descending unison that launches the work, all three members performed with poise and imbued the music with a prodromal fanaticism appropriate for Beethoven of this period.

The first movement saw breathless accompaniment figures whipped off from all three players’ bows, and its contrapuntal development section was executed with precision. The introspective second movement had an affectingly innocent semplice cantabile quality, and the finale was highlighted by rapid-fire scales delivered effortlessly by Jeong, before coming to a charmingly deceptive end in the major.

Lamsma was heard in Mendelssohn’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in F Major, joined by Italian-born pianist Alessio Bax. The opening dotted-rhythm theme sprung buoyantly from Bax’s hands, passed seamlessly to Lamsma, and throughout the movement the duo created moods alternately noble and anxious. Here was a classic example of Mendelssohn creating a sonic universe from seemingly simple material, and the performance benefited from Lamsma’s intelligent highlighting of important harmonic junctures.

The sonata’s second movement is an intimate song without words, which Lamsma presented with architectural phrasing, creating lines flowing and delicate. The pair combined in the last movement to create a playful atmosphere evocative of the finale of the composer’s Violin Concerto. Throughout Bax was a sensitive accompanist, though impressively bravura when called to be, and Lamsma’s facile technique and welcoming stage presence imbued the music with elegant flair.

The evening’s main fare was the String Sextet No. 2 of Johannes Brahms, for which Lamsma was joined by the three performers from the Beethoven, along with CSO members Lawrence Neuman (viola) and Kenneth Olsen (cello). Throughout the complex first movement the ensemble’s sound was lush, expansive, and never forced (as it can be in works with such temptingly juicy melodic material), and the group maintained exemplary balance throughout.

The somewhat exotic second movement with ubiquitous hemiolas sounded appropriately off-kilter, and its closing presto was startlingly thrilling. Each of the episodic variations of the Adagio was presented in a well thought-out character—creeping, suspended octave lines between Lamsma and Ogura sounded chilling, a fast contrapuntal variation bubbled with nervous effervescence, and the movement’s pastoral close was dignified and gracious. The finale was executed with warmth, magnanimity, and virtuosic aplomb from all involved.

Northwestern’s 2015 Winter Chamber Music Festival continues 7:30 p.m. January 23 at Evanston’s Pick-Staiger Hall, with Bienen School of Music faculty performing works of Glinka, Zwilich, and Beethoven.

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