Review “Tickling the ivories at I-House”

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

Earlier this month at I-House, the Chicago Ensemble presented a pleasing concert devoted to piano trios. Mathias Tacke (violin), Andrew Snow (cello) and Gerald Rizzer (piano), performed a wide range of material in an engaging manner.
The concert opened with Beethoven’s Trio No. 5 in D Major, op 70, no. 1 (“Ghost”). The first movement established a lovely buoyancy, while the next movement, the source of the work’s title, was brooding and haunting. The conclusion, featuring light and fluid runs on the piano, was genuinely exciting.

The Beethoven was followed by three 20th century trios. Leon Kirchner’s Trio No. 1 was composed in 1954, and Rizzer’s opening remarks included a discussion of his hearing Kirchner speak back in the day, and how it led to an interest in his music. The work had endearing rhapsodic moments contrasted with sharply dissonant ones, making for an intriguing whole. The musicians clearly offered it their full commitment.

After the intermission was a recent work, which the composer describes as an “amalgam of old and new.” Ted Goldman’s Scrudge was composed in 2009 and was a winner of the Chicago Ensemble’s Discover America competition. It featured great energy as it builds to incredible intensity, as well as a fascinating quiet section.

The concert closed with the Trio No. 1 in D minor, op. 35 written in 1926 by Joaquin Turina. The musicians created nicely painted colors with particularly expert interplay between Tacke and Snow. The conclusion was both gracious and gorgeous.
The next Chicago Ensemble concert in Hyde Park (at International House) will be Sun., Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. On the program: Handel’s Sonata in F Major, Greg Kallor’s “Exhilaration,” Martinu’s Trio, Chausson’s Pièce and Ravel’s Chansons madécasses.
For tickets or more information, visit thechicagoensemble.org.
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Last month the University of Chicago Presents concluded this calendar year’s performances in the Classic Concert Series with a recital by the La Jolla Quartet. This ensemble has a most unusual configuration: violin (Cho-Liang Lin), clarinet (John Bruce Yeh), harp (Deborah Hoffman) and cello (Joshua Roman). Because this set of instruments is hardly standard, the entire concert, save the last work, featured only a subset of the quartet.

The evening began with suite from “The Victorian Kitchen Garden” by Paul Reade. The music was composed for the 1980s BBC television series of the same name. The version performed at Mandel Hall featured clarinet with harp accompaniment. While it was hard to hear this music as more than something light to accompany various happenings on a television screen, it is also clearly pretty, and at moments rather stylish. Yeh, well known to Chicago audiences as a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, gave the music his all, realizing the technical complexities with flair.

Ingolf Dahl’s Concerto à Tre for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano (composed in 1946) opened energetically and included interesting passages for clarinet that Yeh fleshed out beautifully. While the music has a certain sunniness and includes several moments which are rather nice, ultimately the music seemed too small and dull for such splendid musicians.

The Trio pour violon, violoncelle, et harpe by Jacques Ibert found the musicians digging into the music and drawing out its shimmering calm. The harp was notably light and lyric.

Johann Halvorsen’s Passacaglia for Violin and Cello (after Handel) was stuffed with fiery excitement, the rapid sections being grippingly marvelous. It had the audience entranced and the musicians were rewarded with not only big applause but even some loud hoots of appreciation.

The Fantasie in A Major for Violin and Harp by Saint-Saëns showed how Lin and Hoffman could express both the prettiness of the music without stinting on the technical requirements, creating something really quite lovely.

The concert closed with Quartet La Jolla by John Williams, composed in 2011 specifically, as the title suggests, for the La Jolla Quartet. The piece has many busy sections lacking in much interest, as well as some positively boring passages.

Nonetheless, the four players demonstrated devotion to the work and one could hardly imagine a more dedicated performance. It certainly had, as one might expect from Williams, a big movie ending.

The University of Chicago Presents returns in the new year. On Jan. 12 at the Logan Center, eighth blackbird and the Pacifica Quartet perform in a concert entitled “Contempo: Celebrating UChicago Composers.” Visit chicagopresents.uchicago.edu for tickets or information.