It only takes two, three, or four to tango on Chicago’s South Side

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

The Chicago Ensemble powered into spring with a well-attended concert Sunday at I-House that featured three trios for clarinet, viola, and piano. Artistic director and pianist Gerald Rizzer was joined by clarinetist Elizandro Garcia-Montoya and violist Rose Armbrust Griffin for an afternoon of fine music.

The concert opened with Mozart’s Trio in E-flat Major, K. 498. The music was agreeable with the clarinet sweet and engaging and the viola offering a seductive, dusky sound.

Gordon Jacob’s Trio (1960) had a pleasing clarinet line in the opening that Garcia-Montoya performed admirably. Griffin was earnest and secure in her playing while Rizzer added admirable fluency at the piano.

The final work on the program was Carl Reinecke’s Trio in A Major. The ensemble gave a splendid performance of a work of gorgeous romanticism, full of nice detail and attention grabbing moments of great power.

This has been a winter unusually full of wonderful music, and some concerts could not be given space until now. This review will now examine four excellent concerts from the past several weeks.

University of Chicago Presents Ligeti Festival ended earlier this month with a stunning recital by Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the Logan Center. It was pure joy to hear this internationally acclaimed pianist in the intimate confines of the attractive performance hall.

He opened his program with Ligeti’s Musica Ricercta, an unusual piece with an opening section using only two notes, a section which follows that uses three notes, and so on. What is so remarkable is how much Ligeti can do with what seems to be so little. Aimard, an expert in Ligeti’s music, brought energy and brilliance to the performance, at one point sounding impish and at another offering remarkable clarity. It was exciting music making of the highest order.

He then took on five of Ligeti’s études, beginning with No. 12 (Entrelacs) which the composer dedicated to Aimard. The pianist was engrossing. Études 2, 8, 3, and 6 were given similar fine treatment with almost-frenzied playing giving way to shimmering delicacy.

Aimard closed the performance with a wonderful rendition of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” sonata, (Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major). There was clear articulation, gorgeous phrasing, and tremendous command of the flowing lines. It was a powerful performance of great music.

The first Friday of this month, University of Chicago Presents brought the Quatuor Ebène to Mandel Hall for an evening of string quartets by Haydn, Fauré, and Beethoven.

The Haydn String Quartet in D Minor (“Fifths) was robust and included friskiness that became almost fierce at times. The foursome drew grandiose dynamic distinctions and played with an almost hipster-like flamboyance.

Fauré’s String Quartet in E Minor, his final work, was given thoughtful interpretation by the French ensemble. The longest movement, the Andante, was full of chromatic tension and gave way to a vigorous and satisfying conclusion.

Quatuor Ebène tackled Beethoven’s String Quartet in E-flat Major (“Harp”) with gusto. They judiciously delineated distinctions between the delicate and dramatic, and knew when to infuse the music with big drama.

It was an exciting afternoon of music when University of Chicago Presents brought tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake to Mandel Hall at the end of February. The pair offered an All-Schubert program entitled “Poetisches Tagesbuch (Poetic Diary).

First were nine songs set to poems by Ernst Schultze. Drake and Prégardien gave the music expert treatment, starting with “Auf der Bruck” which had a good rollicking pace and high energy. Throughout, Prégardien exhibited a nuanced interpretation, with heartfelt singing and lots of color and contrast. He was ably matched by Drake.

After the intermission there were eight Schubert songs set to poems by Rückert, Schlegel, Collin, Schlechta, Craigher, and Leitner. The opening work, “Dass sie hier gewesen,” set to a Rückert text, was deeply moving. “Im Walde” (Schlegel) had wonderful rushes of energy that Drake handled particularly beautifully.

The duo created a memorable performance of top caliber, reminding us yet again how much University of Chicago Presents brings to Hyde Park every year.

The South Shore Opera Company celebrated Black History Month with a free concert at the South Shore Cultural Center in February. Three African-American singers took on opera classics and Negro spirituals that made for a great Sunday afternoon.

Baritone Robert Sims was marvelous whether interpreting Mozart or Jerome Kern. He has not only a fine voice but charisma and stage presence to spare. His “Ol Man River” rightfully received great adulation from the audience. It was one of the most moving performances of this song I have ever heard.

Bass-baritone Vince Wallace is an emerging artist who proved that he is a voice to be reckoned with. He gave a spirited account of the Catalog Aria from “Don Giovanni” as well as a rousing interpretation of “Deep River.”

Tenor Cameo Humes, a relative newcomer, was pleasing. His most memorable performance was the duet from Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” sung with Sims. Luciano Laurentiu was an able pianist, who provided secure support for the singers throughout the afternoon.