The Chicago Symphony Orchestra/s free All-Access series visits Kenwood Academy

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

One of the many different music offerings of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is its All-Access Chamber Series, a set of free concerts featuring members of the CSO playing in small ensembles. On Sunday, All-Access came to Hyde Park with a performance at The Patrick R. Allen Memorial Auditorium at Kenwood Academy.

The Trio Calico, made up of Gina DiBello (violin), Youming Chen (viola), and Gary Stucka (cello) drew a good-sized local audience for their two-work performance.

First on the program was Judd Greenstein’s “Grosse Tugenden” (“Great virtues”), which takes its title from a line in Brecht’s “Mother Courage” and the piece, according to the composer, “grapples with the concepts of virtue and heroism.”

It opens with a lament by the viola, which Chen rendered as intriguing and mournful. When the other two players enter, the music is more complex and gnarled. This led to a taut section with dissonance creating a palpable sense of urgency.

All three players were effective in the part of the piece which used stark descending passages. At one point, Stucka’s handsome cello took the lead while DiBello and Chen created an otherworldly sound which almost squeaked with anguish.

All three players put their skills on display when with the score’s call for rapid speed in a section of rapid descending chromatic lines.

There was a compelling dirge and the violin’s long-held high note was soft and aching before DiBello took on a pretty and sweet little melody.

As the work neared its conclusion there was excitement as all the strings slashed through a section which took the music higher and higher, building tension. This resolved into a calm and quiet ending. Was it hopeful or tragic? That was unclear, and the composer wrote it to be ambiguous. The program notes quote Greenstein as saying, “If the work comes across as quite tragic, that is due to its being an honest representation of the world, from my perspective. If the work seems hopeful, it is for the same reason.”

After a brief intermission, the trio returned to the stage for Bach’s Goldberg Variations in an arrangement by Dmitry Sitkovetsky. For this performance the work was pared down a bit, including 21 of the 30 variations.

The arrangement was splendid, using the three string voices to good effect so the listener was not disappointed that the composer’s original instrument, the harpsichord, was not present.

The opening aria was given a relaxed and mellow treatment, followed immediately in the first variation, a two-part invention, with energetic playing. The next variation was dignified and the one after that had sprightly charm.

For the Canon at the Second, Stucka had good detailing and the next variation featured very sweet sound from DiBello.

The trio appeared to embrace the music, and drew out the joy, complexities, and polyphonic splendor. There were fine moments of duo playing as well as splendid trio balances. The middle Overture had notable elegance and later all the players put their pizzicato to the test and scored highly.

All told, the concert was about 90 minutes and the audience appeared well pleased. Additionally, it was a pleasure to see a sprinkling of children throughout the auditorium, as well as many young adults. The CSO even had a free raffle, with winners receiving free tickets to performances of the orchestra for next season.

The CSO’s All-Access Chamber Series will present another concert in Hyde Park next month. On Sun., May 21 at 3 p.m. the Mallarmé Quartet and friends will perform Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 10, Beethoven’s String Quartet in E Minor (Rasumovsky) and Raimi’s “Story of the Pennies” and “At My Wedding,” songs for soprano.

The musicians performing will be Rong-Yan Tang (violin), Melanie Kupchynsky (violin), Max Raimi (viola), Loren Brown (cello), Stephen Williamson (clarinet), and Patrice Michaels (soprano). The concert takes place at the Logan Center (915 E. 50th St.).

Visit cso.org/allaccesschamber, for more information.