Cleveland Classical: Review CityMusic Chamber Music at St. Noel

May 24, 2011

On Thursday evening, May 18, I had the pleasure of hearing a chamber music program featuring the “crossover” Grammy nominee cellist Matt Haimovitz. Appearing with Mr. Haimovitz was guest violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, who joined forces with musicians from CityMusic to perform a program of chamber works by Beethoven, Brahms and Arensky at St. Noel Church in Willoughby Hills, bringing to a close the outstanding 2010-2011 CityMusic series.

The opening chamber work was Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2 (Opus 35) composed in 1895.  Bearing the inscription “To the memory of Tchaikovsky,”  it was originally composed for the unusual combination of violin, viola and two Cellos, (the version heard tonight) however, Arensky’s publisher, with an eye toward sales, begged the composer to write a version for standard string quartet and Arensky obliged with Opus 35a.  Anton Arensky, (1861-1906) taught at the Moscow Conservatory and was deeply influenced by the music of Tchaikovsky.

The first movement of the Quartet opens with a funereal theme and while the secondary theme, not exactly happy itself, relieves the earlier more somber mood, the first idea ultimately returns to close this rather long and depressive movement. The second, titled “Based on a theme by Tchaikovsky,” is an enormous movement containing seven variations giving each instrument an opportunity to lead. It is clearly the center of gravity for the quartet.  The finale begins in the same somber mood where the previous movement left off,  but this dirge-like heaviness is soon relieved by a rousing church anthem tune which brings the quartet to a flourishing finish.  The quartet members wove a melodies and textures of exquisite beauty into an entrancing, mesmerizing sonority of placid, yet dark, eloquence as Mr. Haimovitz shared the spotlight with violinist Ling Ling Huang, violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama and cellest Keiko Ying.

Violinist Ai Nihira and violist Cynthia Black joined with the Arensky foursome for the second work on the program, Brahms’ String Sextet in B-Flat Major, Opus 18, written between 1858 and 1860.  The first movement is almost Schubert-like in its Viennese waltz time except that it bears Brahms affinity for the linking of beautiful melodic motifs. The second movement is in the form of a theme and six variations. The third, a Scherzo, typical of Brahms’ earlier period, honored Beethoven.  Respect for classical style is honored in the fourth movement, Poco allegretto e grazio and the concluding cadential statement was refreshingly poignant.  Again these six fine musicians played with obvious attention to equality of sound and a wonderful sense of applying their talents to the benefit of the music.

The final work of the evening was an excellent performance of Beethoven’s famous Septet in E-flat major, Op. 20.  In its day, it quickly became one of Beethoven’s most popular compositions – “so popular, in fact, that Beethoven actually came to dislike it!” It is a work consisting of six movements that are very straightforward and contain moments of melodic content along with a rather energetic waggishness.  Fast movements are vigorous and fresh, and slow movements are wonderfully poetic.  (The third movement, always the most popular section of the work, is an adaptation of the minuet in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in G major, Op. 49, No. 2.)  One of the highlights of the evening was the second movement No. 2, with its expressive lyricism and plaintive violin solo played by Ai Nihira. Also joining in the performance of the Beethoven were hornist Neil Kimel, bassoonist Laura Koepke, clarinetist Daniel Gilbert, violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, double bassist Tracy Rowell and cellist Matt Haimovitz.

This CityMusic concert was but one more performance in a long line of musical successes.  The talent was abundant, the atmosphere was filled with excitement, the venue was exceptional and most importantly the music was exquisite.  Kudos to CityMusic for its imaginative and inspired programming that has filled the hearts and minds of their many committed followers throughout Cleveland and northeast Ohio.  It is with great anticipation that I look forward to CityMusic’s 2011-2012 season.

by  J.D. Goddard

View article at Cleveland Classical

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