Chamber Music Review



Eastern Chamber Players: Splendid Baroque

July 27, 2004 - Greensboro, NC:


The main entrée of the July 27 concert of the Eastern Chamber Players, Vivaldi's beloved Four Seasons , was eagerly anticipated, not only because it is the most popular baroque musical work but also because it featured violinist Julia Fischer, whose fame recently burst upon the music world. José-Luis Novo conducted a chamber orchestra made up of faculty from the Eastern Philharmonic. There were three each first and second violins, two violas, a cellist and a double-bassist. Gideon Rubin was the discreet and imaginative continuo player, using a fine-sounding two-manual Gable harpsichord. Fischer was a stunning soloist with flawless intonation and limitless technique deployed with musical eloquence. With no excessive showmanship, she played as the first among equals, carefully listening and responding to her fellow players. The first movement of "Spring" brought an exciting three-way give-and-take involving Fischer, Kristin Van Ausdal, and Kristy Green, leaders of the first and second violins, respectively. Romona Merritt's deep, sonorous viola tone limned the barking dog of the second movement perfectly. Cellist Larry Stomberg had several strongly characterized duets with Fischer. Sometimes her melodic line floated above a net of mellow notes woven with the harpsichord's lute stop. This was spontaneous music making at its best, even more enjoyable than Fischer's recent DVD of the Four Seasons with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the Fields, considered the top choice in that format by the Penguin Guide.

The concert opened with an elegant performance of the Troisième Concert Royal, in A, by François Couperin, "Le Grand." This is a suite of dance movements that sometimes pair flute and oboe in duet with each other or singularly but in duet with the continuo, which consisted of cello and harpsichord. Flutist Les Roettges and oboist Eric Olson displayed perfect intonation and a broad palette of timbres. Cellist Marta Simidtchieva brought plenty of style and temperament to the one movement that gives her instrument an equal-partner role beyond that of a repeated bass. Rubin's subtle harpsichord accompaniment firmly supported the swirling lines of the soloists.

Alfred Schnittke's Suite In the Olden Style (1972), for violin and piano, proved a welcome addition to the repertory. Susan Halpern's otherwise excellent program note incorrectly gives the date of 1977 for the movie The Adventures of a Dentist (1965), from the film score of which this suite was formed. This work features the composer's characteristic polystylism - the absorption, quotation, or parody of historical forms into a composition. It is a pleasant pastiche of baroque styles with movements named Pastorale, Ballet, Minuet, Fugue and Pantomime. I found listening to it to be loosely analogous to starting to follow a portion of an Escher print only to brought up short by the weirdly unexpected..., including, in several cases, elaborate dominant preparations that fail to cadence. Slightly out-of-style bass dissonances and 20th-century rhythmic shifts add to the off-center impression. Violinist John Fadial displayed a fine, robust tone and agile bow, partnered by Rubin's consummate ability to evoke a Romanticized veneer for the quasi-Handel or quasi-Purcell keyboard part.