Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Delaware Chamber Music Festival Wraps 31st Season

By Christine Facciolo

The Delaware Chamber Music Festival (DCMF) turned to Scandinavia for the penultimate concert of its 31st season, programming works by some famous and not-so-famous Nordic composers.

The concert opened with a performance of Handel/Halvorsen’s Passacaglia for violin and cello. Halvorsen (1864-1935) was a celebrated violinist, conductor and composer best remembered today for this brilliant extrapolation of Handel’s passacaglia for an intrepid duo of two masterful musicians, in this case Hirono Oka, violin and Burchard Tang, viola. DCMF Music Director and Violinist Barbara Govatos noted that the piece is primarily used for educational purposes, so it was a real treat to hear it performed in concert.

It is indeed amazing to hear how much music a composer can coax out of the scant resources of two stringed instruments. Some of the variations require numerous double and triple stops and multi-note chords to achieve full four-part harmony while others employ swift melodic lines to create a linear harmonic effect over time. The result was a jaw-dropping dialog between two virtuosic performers.

The brilliance of the Handel/Halvorsen segued to the serious of Sibelius’ String Quartet in D minor (Voces intimae) delivered with strength and sympathy. The four musicians showed polish and clear phrasing in the opening Andante; conveyed purpose and excitement in the perpetual motion of the Vivace; captured the dream-like quality of the Adagio; charmed in the Allegretto and brought frantic energy to the closing Allegro.

The final offering of the concert was Grieg’s String Quartet in G minor, Op. 27. Like Sibelius, Grieg attempted the genre several times but left only one mature effort in the form. The Quartet tells the tale of minstrels who sell their souls to a water sprite in exchange for virtuosity. Grieg manages to imbue the work with a richness and scope that evoke the power of an orchestra with just four string players. The ensemble did a stellar job of capturing the romantic drama of the piece. Cellist Clancy Newman offered some remarkable playing at the end of the first movement. All in all, the ensemble maintained a good balance, blend and clarity to the rousing conclusion.

Pianist Marcantonio Barone joined the quartet for Sunday’s finale, which featured a work each from the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries.

Barone and Govatos joined together for a performance of David Finko’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (2010). The duo sounded determined to show just how easily they could dispatch this Russian-American composer’s deliberately taut and acerbic music and they did so quite impressively.

Cellist Clancy Newman brought a big rich sound, thoughtful musicianship and technical capability to his performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata in C Major for cello and piano, Op. 119. The sonata opened with grave, low cello phrases, but quickly moved into outbursts of pizzicato around heavily marked themes in the piano. The composer’s naturally good humor returned in the scherzo-like second movement where the piano assumed much of the action. It was prominent again in the third movement but Newman and Barone were never anything less than an equal pair as the cello’s arpeggios were accompanied by piano figures that swept the keyboard.

The concert — and the season — wrapped up with Govatos joining Newman and Barone in a spirited performance of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major, D. 929. It’s hard to believe this lighthearted work was composed the same month (November 1827) as the more somber Winterreise song cycle but we got a gentle reminder in the C minor Andante con moto, with a melancholy exchange between cello and piano. The players showed themselves to be completely in Schubertian sensibility from the dramatic rhythms of the opening movement to the jaunty delivery of the final movement, where despite moments of sadness, Schubertian bonhomie reigned.


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