Rembrandt Chamber Musicians warm up a rainy night

Tue Apr 04, 2017 at 3:39 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The Rembrandt Chamber Players (violist Carol Cook, cellist Calum Cook and pianist Jeanie Yu) performed Monday night at St. James Cathedral. Photo: Darren McNutt
The Rembrandt Chamber Musicians (violist Carol Cook, cellist Calum Cook and pianist Jeanie Yu) performed Monday night at St. James Cathedral. Photo: Darron McNutt

The Rembrandt Chamber Musicians served up comfort food Monday night at St. James Cathedral with a slice of populist Austro-German cornerstones. While the programming stayed on the safe side, the performances delivered enough pleasure to warm up yet another cold and rainy night in Chicago.

As with many long-running chamber groups in the city, it’s heartening to see the graceful commingling of founding members with younger musicians in the series’ 27th season. Such was the case again with veteran Robert Morgan teaming up with the second Rembrandt generation, nearly all of whom are front-desk players from Lyric Opera Orchestra.

The program led off with Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, a Morgan perennial for nearly three decades. The church offers striking visuals but also a resonant acoustic that proved something of a challenge. Blending was an issue for the four players with the oboe sounding fitfully underprojected. (Facing the audience rather than off to the side might have helped.) Still Morgan’s relaxed yet nimble playing brought the right touch to this gracious music, with an equally light style by violinist John Macfarlane, violist Carol Cook and cellist Calum Cook.

The Cook siblings were joined by pianist Jeannie Yu for Brahms’ Trio in A minor. The program indicated the trio would be played in the better-known version for clarinet; Carol Cook, in her charming, Scottish-accented introduction, explained that she would, in fact, be playing a viola and apologized if anyone was disappointed.

The burnished string tone of the Cooks–principal violist and cellist of the Lyric Opera Orchestra–fell gratefully on the ear and both played with warmth and sensitivity against Yu’s agile keyboard work. Still, there was a marked lack of dramatic tension, in the first movement, especially, and the relaxed, low-energy approach at times flirted with blandness. The Adagio came off best with lovely playing by all.

Happily, the evening closed on a high note with a spirited performance of Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A major. Nothing dull or troutey here with all five players (Yu, Macfarlane, violist Lawrence Neuman, cellist Cook and Collins Trier, double-bass) fully engaged and characterful.  Along with Yu’s excellent piano work, violinist Macfarlane was especially inspired, playing with a clear sweet tone and consistently bringing out the ingenuity of Schubert’s writing.

From its earliest years, the Rembrandt Chamber Musicians have been encouraging young musicians to take up chamber music through their high school competition. The Vieira Quartet played at Sunday’s concert in Evanston and it was the turn of the Cerulean Quartet Monday night,

The Cerulean Quartet’s members range in age from 16-18 (violinists Cristina Ciubancan and Vincent Wong, violist Margaret Mary O’Malley and cellist Alex Levinson). The young musicians dove headfirst into the final movement (“Vif et agite”) of Ravel’s String Quartet, playing with impressive polish and bracing vitality. 

The Rembrandt Chamber Musicians perform their final concerts of the season 7 p.m. May 19 at Ganz Hall and 7:30 p.m. May 21 at Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston. The program includes Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor, Poulenc’s Flute Sonata, Darius Milhaud’s Les reves de Jacob, and the world premiere of Sebastian Huydts’ Trio for oboe, viola and piano.

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