Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: Chamber Music Society

April 23, University of Richmond

A blisteringly expressive performance of César Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor, concluding a program of otherwise rarely heard French chamber works, wrapped up the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia’s current season.

The Franck, which probably comes as close as any piece to what chamber music by Richard Wagner might have sounded like, pits an often thunderous piano against a string quartet whose parts, singly and collectively, are impassioned and rich – or dense – with chromatic harmonies and swelling dynamics.

Richness, rather than density, characterized this performance by pianist Roman Rabinovich, violinists Diana Cohen and Daisuke Yamamoto, violist Amadi Azikiwe and cellist James Wilson, who, aided greatly by the bright acoustic of the University of Richmond’s freshly renovated Perkinson Recital Hall, projected unusual clarity in the normally heavily weave of Franck’s miniature orchestration.

Rabinovich didn’t hold back in the piano’s massive chordal punctuations; but the string players, paced by Cohen, matched him in volume and intensity, and their treatments of the recurring, lyrical leitmotif – a sound portrait of a woman (not his wife) with whom Franck was obsessed at the time – underlined the passionate edge of this reading.

The Franck was preceded by two rare examples of chamber music with trumpet, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Septet in E flat major, Op. 65, and Vincent d’Indy’s “Suite dans le style ancien” (“Dance Suite in the Old Style”), Op. 24, both composed for a late 19th-century Parisian chamber-concert series called La Trompette.

In these performances, trumpeter Justin Bland alternated between instruments, playing a modern valved trumpet in the Saint-Saëns and a valveless “natural” trumpet, for a better blend with two flutes in a wind chorus, in the d’Indy octet.

In both pieces, Bland ably reined in volume and brightness, keeping his instrumental lines within the fabric of ensembles rather than blaring over them – a peril that explains the scarcity of trumpet parts in chamber works with strings.

Saint-Saëns and d’Indy consciously couched their pieces in the antique form of the baroque suite, with a decorous introduction followed by dances (minuet, sarabande, gavotte). Neither exactly impersonated baroque musical style – virtually unknown in their day – opting instead for structures and tonal blends that Mozart or Haydn might have recognized, d’Indy a bit more rigorously than Saint-Saëns.

Bland, joined by the string players and Rabinovich in both works and by flutists Tabatha Easley and Brandon Patrick George in the d’Indy, delivered stylishly classical, somewhat understated treatments, with Rabinovich adding an appropriately romantic gloss to the Saint-Saëns.

George and Rabinovich rounded out the program with a straightforward reading of Gabriel Fauré’s Fantasie, Op. 79, for flute and piano, an unabashedly romantic piece, but one without the emotional tumult of the Franck.