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Review: Chamber concert missing some ‘heart and soul’

January 17, 2017 GMT

Saturday night’s Rochester Chamber Music Society concert, Music of Soviet Russia, was intriguing in that it presented a challenging program of modern music to a surprisingly large Rochester audience.

Although the concert did not live up to my personal expectations of being “wowed,” I nonetheless consider the endeavor a success, and do hope that Rochester will be treated to more such unique programs, a hallmark of the Rochester Chamber Music Society concerts.

The evening opened with Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” for violin and piano, composed in 1977. This mesmerizing and almost mystical work may sound deceptively simple at times, but is in fact a layered and complex “set” of variations on a theme, employing string techniques such as harmonics, which create an eerily metallic and mesmerizing sound.

What was lacking for me, in violinist Brian Krinke’s rendition, was a sense of emotional gravity, or center. This was partly because I personally did not experience an overall “arc of sound,” culminating in a climax, and partly because, either due to the acoustics or the playing, or both, there was an almost muddled or hazy quality, lacking in other, gripping, performances of the work that I have heard in the past.

The final two works on the program, Sergei Prokofiev’s Sonata Op. 119 for Cello and Piano (1949) and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Trio, Op. 67 (1944) occupied similar tonal territory, including containing scalar (step-wise) thematic material. Their muscular and angular melodies were generally challenging and dissonant.

After a quietly elegaic canonic opening, again featuring harmonics, with each voice carrying the tune in staggered fashion, the Shostakovich grew into a work with greater rhythmic and melodic interest. Intriguing were bursts of sound and color reminiscent of Jewish or Russian folk melodies, as well as raucous bouts conjuring up Eastern European klezmer music. Yet, once again, though the performers were masterful, some “heart and soul” was missing from the performance for me.

Verbal program notes were given before each piece. While engaging, and funny, I had mixed feelings about the results, as this, and words from the pianist, delayed the start of the second half by about 10 minutes.

However, in spite of the loss of a few rows of audience before the second half, the vast majority of the pretty full house stayed to the end, greeting the performers with a standing ovation — great!