Chamber Music Society mines an array of 20th century music at Wolf Trap

Mon Jan 29, 2024 at 12:24 pm

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center performed Ernest Bloch’s Piano Quintet No. 1 Sunday at Wolf Trap. Photo: Abram Eric Landes

Members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center appeared at The Barns at Wolf Trap on Sunday for a program of works from the first decades of the 20th century.

Though the generic title “Imagination” didn’t provide much of a common thread, the opportunity to enjoy works from this still frequently neglected period was reason enough to appreciate the programming.

The first half opened with the Four African Dances for Violin and Piano by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the British composer whose mixed-race parentage inspired a number of compositions celebrated in both England and America around the turn of the century. Loosely inspired by folksong melodies, the Dances cover a wide range of modes: the folk material comes to the fore in the charming and sentimental opening of the Allegro, though is largely buried in the brash virtuosity of the closing Allegro energico.

Kristin Lee’s expressive violin found much to bring out in the different characters of the pieces, moderating her broad tone in the opening Allegro to a more intimate, distant sound in the following Andantino, and a light playfulness in the Allegro con brio. Robust playing from pianist Gloria Chien enlivened the finale in a rousing display from Lee, including a riveting double-stopped passage.

While Reynaldo Hahn is perhaps best known today for his elegant contributions to the chanson repertoire, the opening of his lush Piano Quintet in F-Sharp Minor of 1922 reveals a stormier side of the composer. The second movement Andantino was the star here, building from a duet between the beautiful, understated tone of Dmitri Atapine’s cello and Yura Lee’s viola.

A solo turn by violinist James Thompson featured Eugène Ysaÿe’s 1924 Sonata No. 3 for Solo Violin, dedicated to the composer and violinist George Enescu. Thompson demonstrated a firm sense of the work’s shifting character, from the meandering opening to strident attacks in the main section. He dispatched the detailed passagework with thrilling fidelity, including a series of hair-raising, high-flying passages towards the work’s climax.

The full group reassembled for the program’s centerpiece, Ernest Bloch’s Piano Quintet No. 1 of 1923. This monumental work straddles the sound worlds of the early 20th century, with passages of traditional tonality coexisting with atonal and microtonal passages in a swirl of invention. 

The players brought a righteous sense of commitment to the opening Agitato, though the robust sound of the strings sometimes came at the expense of balance with the piano. The Andante mistico began with ghostly strings against repeated figures in the piano, building to a pitch of heady sustained tension as the string players traded lines. A special highlight here were several passages featuring the vivid sound of Yura Lee’s viola which stood out against the roiling texture.

In the closing movement the quintet leaned into the brutality of the machine-like figures in the strings pitted against driving figures in the piano. A slow middle section again featured Yura Lee’s unique viola in a mournful passage, before diving into the mounting exhilaration of the finale.

The Chamber Music at the Barns season continues at Wolf Trap 3 p.m. February 11 with the Sitkovetsky Trio in music by Perkin, Ravel, and Beethoven.

One Response to “Chamber Music Society mines an array of 20th century music at Wolf Trap”

  1. Posted Jan 29, 2024 at 7:01 pm by Thomas Landucci

    Another enthralling presentation at the Barns. Maybe it’s taken for granted,but from the Lone Bellow to Del McCoury to Chamber Music, the Barns presents and perfects the sounds.

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