Bach and Schumann works shine at North Shore Chamber Music Festival

Sat Jun 06, 2015 at 12:34 pm

By Tim Sawyier

Vadim Gluzman and Angela Yoffe performed Schumann's duo version of the Bach Chaconne Friday night at the North Shore Chamber Music Festival in Northbrook.
Vadim Gluzman and Angela Yoffe performed Schumann’s duo version of the Bach Chaconne Friday night at the North Shore Chamber Music Festival in Northbrook.

The North Shore Chamber Music Festival continued Friday night at the Village Presbyterian Church in Northbrook, where the august roster of artists offered penetrating readings in a compelling program.

The evening opened with artistic director  and violinist Vadim Gluzman and executive director and pianist Angela Yoffe performing Schumann’s version of Bach’s Chaconne for violin. Schumann created violin and piano arrangements of all of Bach’s solo violin works (as did Mendelssohn), leaving the violin part virtually unchanged while adding a minimal accompaniment that is largely imitative and fills out the harmonies implied in the violin writing.

It is hard to imagine a better performance of this Bach cornerstone. Gluzman and Yoffe were completely locked in from beginning to end, Yoffe sensitively responding to Gluzman’s intelligently calculated rubato. In Yoffe’s hands the robust bass Schumann adds to the work’s central major section made the music all the more moving (if possible), and her poised, austere statements of the original theme under the violin’s swirling figuration helped clarify the musical roadmap. Gluzman’s playing was of the highest order throughout.

Osvaldo Golijov’s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind featured clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg and the Ariel Quartet. Spanning five movements and inspired by the three historical languages of the Jewish people (Aramaic, Yiddish, and sacred Hebrew), the 35-minute work is largely constituted of two textures: a slow, plaintive, gestural writing, contrasted with violent klezmer-infused episodes. While each is persuasive in its own right, the thematic material is insufficient to sustain a work of such duration.

Nonetheless, the playing was dynamic and committed. Shterenberg and the Ariel members’ readings of the work’s pyrotechnical passages created a sense of ancient urgency, and the contrasting slow material was amply imbued with idiomatic nuance.

The second half featured Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, with Gluzman joined by pianist William Wolfram, violinist Lisa Shihoten, violist Atar Arad, and cellist Mark Kosower in a pristine rendition.

Wolfram’s playing managed to smolder without ever being overbearing, and Kosower’s tender rendition of the first movement’s second theme elicited equally sensitive responses from his colleagues. The ensemble achieved a remarkably unified sound in the desiccated funeral march, Arad’s solo viola contributions standing out as especially polished. The third movement was fleet and breathless, and the finale burbled with energy, culminating in a trenchant rendition of its closing double fugue.

The evening concluded with a nachspiel (literally “after play”) of three short dances. Gluzman shone with Yoffe in Alfred Schnittke’s Polka from his incidental music to Gogol’s The Overcoat, playing with reckless abandon and aggression. Shterenberg then joined the pair for a Shostakovich Waltz, which had similar flair. The Ariel Quartet closed the evening with a sultry performance of Astor Piazzolla’s “Tango Primavera Porteña” from Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

The North Shore Chamber Music Festival concludes 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Village Presbyterian Church in Northbrook with a program of Busoni, Mozart, and Vivaldi.

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