Stimulating concerts offered by University of Chicago Presents

Classical Music Critic

University of Chicago Presents continues to be the premier presenter of classical music on the South Side of Chicago. Two recent concerts exemplify its fine programming.

The first Friday of this month UC Presents brought violinist Leila Josefowicz to Mandel Hall for a stimulating recital. She was joined by collaborative pianist John Novacek.

Their concert opened with an arrangement by Friedrich Hermann of “Valse triste” by Sibelius. Josefowicz mixed melancholy with a lyrical bounciness and just before the closing whisper she offered a notably fierce attack. Novacek took a hard-edged approach to the piano part that was at times pleasing and at times distracting.

The Prokofiev Violin Sonata No. 1 saw both players at their finest. In the opening Andante, Josefowicz built the drama slowly and had an other-worldly sound. The rapid sections moved in beautiful flurries. She was fiery in the Allegro while Novacek had effective rumbling in the piano. The second Andante was given thoughtful treatment by both musicians and the concluding Allegrissimo had nearly completely frantic moments juxtaposed with quiet and lyrical moments.

For Kaija Saariaho’s “Calices” the pair drew out the intensity of the score and in the middle section Josefowicz was shimmering. There were hot and glinting passages in the final section that the musicians rendered with excitement.

The Mahler Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 (arr. by Otto Wittenbecher) was both urgent and pretty. The violinist opted for an understated approach that was persuasive and attractive.

The final work on the program was the Sonata for Violin and Piano by Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Josefowicz reveled in the music, whether it was unsettled or driven by rapid pulses.

As an encore, the pair offered a pretty yet unsentimental version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.”

The University of Chicago Presents’ Ligiti series is now underway, offering a multi-faceted look at this Hungarian composer. On Nov. 10 a large selection of musicians took the stage at the performance hall of the Logan Center to present an almost all-Ligiti concert.

It opened with the Ligiti Sonata for Solo Viola performed by Doyle Ambrust. There was a pleasing depth of tone in his playing and he drew out mournful sections well, yet there could have been more dynamic variation.

The only works on the program not by Ligiti were three piano etudes by Ligiti’s student Unsuk Chin. These were performed with flair by Winston Choi. No. 1: in C was elegant with fascinating syncopations. Choi played No. 2: Sequenzen with vigor and confidence and was effective with the insistent rhythms. No. 3: Scherzo ad libitum was extravagant and Choi was well suited to the task.

Choi was joined by Kuang-Hao Huang for Ligiti’s Three Pieces for Two Pianos. The two pianists worked well together processing LIgiti’s intricate and purposely repetitive music, creating a near hypnotic effect.

MingHuan Xu (violin), Anna Spina (horn), and Winston Choi (all members of Ensemble Dal Niente) joined forces for a vibrant performance of Ligiti’s Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano.

The concert closed with the most accessible music on the program, Ligiti’s Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet. The Imani Winds took on this charming collection of short works and offered graceful, pleasing accounts.

The Allegro conspirito was energetic and featured sassy bassoon work by Monica Ellis. The Rubato: Lamentoso had gorgeous flute sound from Valerie Coleman and pert horn by Jeff Scott. The Allegro grazioso was very pretty and Toyin Spellman-Diaz offered singing oboe work. Presto ruvido again highlighted strong horn work and Adagio mesto (Béla Bartók in Memoriam) had notably attractive long lines from Ellis. The concluding Molto vivace had manic moments and some great sound from clarinetist Mark Dover.

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