Cleveland Virtuosi on
Chagrin Valley Chamber Music Series (September 18)
By Daniel Hathaway
An old tradition — the “conductorless” chamber orchestra, led by the primo violinist — returned in the form of a new ensemble called the Cleveland Virtuosi at Valley Lutheran Church in Chagrin Falls on Sunday afternoon. Led by Chagrin Valley Chamber Music Series’ artistic director Hristo Popov, twelve string players, with the assistance of three keyboardists and mezzo-soprano Lara Nie, opened the series with music by Albinoni/Giazotto, Richard Strauss, Joseph Canteloube, Antonio Vivaldi and W. A. Mozart to a good-sized audience.
The ensemble was at its virtuosic best in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins (op. 3, no 8, the one in a minor that J.S. Bach admiringly transcribed for organ). Here Popov was joined by Andrew Sords, who may have been officially playing second fiddle to Popov, but was a splendid and equal partner in Vivaldi’s dazzling scales and thrilling dialogue. Ensemble was tight and rhythmically vital throughout the piece. If the slow movement sounded a bit pokey, the Virtuosi made up for that with an unrestrained and ebullient dash through the final Allegro. Eriko Izumida played harpsichord continuo.
The Virtuosi opened the afternoon with a solemn reading of Remo Giazotto’s mid-twentieth century Adagio in g minor for strings and organ, which the Italian musicologist and Albinoni scholar allegedly based on a fragment of melody and bass rescued from the Saxon State Library after World War II. Whatever its origin, it always makes a good impression. Margaret Losik played the organ part on an electronic instrument from the gallery and Popov delivered soulful recitatives. At the other end of the afternoon, the ensemble closed with Mozart’s bubbly Divertimento in D, K. 136. Here the string playing wasn’t quite so tidy as in the Bach, but the Virtuosi pointed up dramatic contrasts in dynamics and kept textures light and transparent.
The torso of the program featured mezzo-soprano Lara Nie in three of Strauss’ Four Last Songs and four of Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne, in voluptuous arrangements for strings and piano by Wanda Sobieska, who plays violin in the ensemble. For these, Sords assumed the concertmaster’s place and Popov took up a baton to lead the ensemble.
Nie is phenomenal at putting the sense of songs across to the audience, and her diction both in German and Auvergnat was impeccable (English versions of the Strauss’ Nacht, Morgen and Zueignung were printed in the program, but the first three Cantaloube songs were given only in their original Occitan). Nie also sang beautifully, producing a rich, focused sound in the Strauss, and adopting appropriately earthy timbres for the Canteloube, where she vividly expressed emotions with her eyes as well
Sobieska’s reworkings of the seven pieces were masterful, and the pair of violin solos in the final Cantaloube song (Bailero) gave Popov and Sords yet another opportunity to shine. Pianist Per Enflo was stationed off to the side behind the double bass, where he did an amazing job of flying blind.
Having made an impressive debut, the Cleveland Virtuosi will return on December 3 as the orchestra for the Chagrin Valley Chamber Music Series’ Messiah performance with Quire Cleveland. Before that, the next series concert will feature violinist Joan Kwuon and pianist Elizabeth DeMio on October 23 at 3 pm.
Published on clevelandclassical.com September 20, 2011
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