Review: Chamber Music Society

April 22, First Unitarian Universalist Church

The Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia closed out its 2017-18 season over the weekend with forays into Latin and Italian repertory, from Verdi and Boccherini to Astor Piazzolla and Gabriela Lena Frank.

Following a sampler of Latin American music on April 21 at the Richmond Public Library, the society’s final ticketed concert featured violinists Grace Park and Karla Donehew Perez, violist Amadi Azikiwe, cellist James Wilson (the society’s artistic director) and guitarist Adam Cockerham in a program of Verdi’s Quartet in E minor, Boccherini’s Quintet in C major (“La Ritirada di Madrid”), G. 453, and “Danzas Españolas” by Enrique Granados.

That reads like a mixed bag, and sounded even more so. Moreover, except for the Granados and the closing “Ritirada” (“Military Retreat”) movement of the Boccherini, the music rarely echoed its country of origin.

Verdi’s quartet, his only significant instrumental work, is quite audibly a bid by this master of Italian opera to make a place for himself in the ranks of composers of “abstract” European classical music – to be as German as the Germans. The quartet’s first movement is as involved an explication of sonata form as anything produced by Beethoven, Schumann or Brahms, and its fugal finale could be an outtake from one of Beethoven’s late quartets. Only in the inner movements do we clearly hear intimations of Verdi’s theatrical melding of lyricism and high drama.

The string players emphasized those Verdian qualities when the music allowed them to, and treated the rest of the work to an assertive and sonically hefty, if occasionally untidy, reading.

The ensemble, joined by guitarist Cockerham, sounded more attuned to Boccherini’s lighter, sunnier sound pallette, with deft interplay between violinists Park and Perez, their percolating brilliance contrasting nicely with richer tones from violist Azikiwe and cellist Wilson. The four fiddlers gave an appropriately Mozartian lilt to the first three movements of the quintet and more rhythmically pointed and sonically spatial treatment, enhanced by the guitar, to the retreat finale, music that Boccherini recycled from his better-known Quintet in C major, G. 324 (“La musica notturna della strade di Madrid”).

Authentically Spanish musical flavor pervades Granados’ “Danzas Españolas,” and Park and Cockerham made the most of its dance rhythms and its abundant atmospherics, the latter quality most pronounced in the central “Andaluza” movement. Their light touch in the concluding fandango, one of the least heavy-handed treatments of this dance in the classical literature, was especially gratifying.

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