The show must go on: Chicago Ensemble at International House

Members of the Chicago Ensemble (left to right) Stephen Boe, Andrew Snow, and Karl Davies perform at International House, 1414 E. 59th St., last Sunday. – M.L. Rantala

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

Classical music performers, like everyone else, sometimes become ill. But the show must go on. So when the Chicago Ensemble found that violinist Mathias Tacke could not perform on Sunday, they hustled to find a replacement. And they did. They found two of them. In order to maintain the same announced program, they found two violinists to split the work on short notice. The results were excellent and the Hyde Park audience at International House seemed well pleased.

The program opened with the Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major, K.493, by Mozart. Stephen Boe (violin), Karl Davies (viola), Andrew Snow (cello), and Gerald Rizzer (piano) opened the work with airy freshness. Boe had a particularly lovely singing sound in his violin and always performed with assurance. Snow was a solid anchor on cello and at times had a pleasingly slyness about his play. Rizzer’s piano was fleet and clear while Davies had a splendid mellowness of sound. The middle movement had just the right element of pensiveness, bringing out the contemplative nature of the music. The conclusion began with a gentle approach which then led to a performance full of pep.

The same four players then took on the 1942 Quartet by Bohuslav Martinu, which was composed on Long Island during the Second World War. This is music full of vitality and invigorating harmonies and rhythms, yet seems informed by the war, with its, at times, disturbing sonorities. The ensemble started things out right with crisp playing that was thoroughly engaging.

The middle Adagio might have had more elasticity to be fully convincing, but the players were able and maintained audience interest. The strings worked well together, playing the beginning without piano, and Rizzer then infused the middle movement with pianistic intensity.

The final movement drew together the haunting nature of the music, and Rizzer was particularly engrossing. The conclusion had panache.

After the intermission the Chicago Ensemble took on, for the first time in its 41-year history, the Quartet No. 1 in D Major by Dvorak. The violinist was Alan Snow, a recent graduate of Indiana University (where he studied with the Pacifica Quartet’s Sibbi Bernhardsson) who has been appointed concertmaster of the Columbus, Indiana Philharmonic. It is no accident that he shares the same last name as the ensemble’s cellist. They are father and son.

The work opened with a splendid rendition of the first theme, full of gentle and lilting music. Snow the cellist offered strong work in setting the mood while Snow the violinist had assertive and expressive qualities beyond his years. The three strings worked well together, offering lyrical sound while the piano offered a charming delicacy.

The middle movement, a theme and variations, had marvelous spontaneity without sacrificing accuracy. It was very satisfyingly done.

The final movement was both perky and pleasing, with the mazurka particularly enjoyable. It formed the end of a very satisfying afternoon of music.

The Chicago Ensemble has a large roster of Chicago and regional artists and artistic director and founder Gerald Rizzer draws from this a small group for each of the Ensemble’s concerts. This time around he called upon violist Karl Davies who joined the ensemble for only the second time. But if you are a classical music fan, you have probably heard this native Welshman before: he plays violin with the Grant Park Orchestra and viola with the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

The Chicago Ensemble is holding a workshop for adult amateur chamber music players this spring. On Sun., Mar. 18 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Pianoforte (1335 S. Michigan Ave.) piano, string, and woodwind players will receive coaching and then take part in a performance which concludes the workshop. For more information, visit thechicagoensemble.org.