Three of The Walden Chambers strings played an exquisite concert on Monday, February 28 at Concord Academy, where the ensemble is in their second year as Ensemble in Residence. The concert had sentimental meaning for me, as I hadn’t seen either the guest violinist or the cellist since they were both much younger — some eighteen years ago. I had heard about them, but wanted to learn if they were as good as their reputations made them out to be. Reader: they were.
The concert opened with one of the two masterpieces for violin and viola (the other is by Ravel), Zoltan Kodaly’s Duo for Violin and Cello op. 7, a half-hour tour de force. Violinist Gabriel Lefkowitz immediately stuck me as a powerful, commanding player with a gorgeous sound, a great talent to watch. Cellist Ashima Scripp played her solo parts with great expressivity; she is an excellent chamber music player. Their performance was both energetic and seductive.
The beautiful “Moderato” from Anton Arensky’s String Quartet in A minor, op.35, is scored for the odd combination of violin, viola, and two celli. The extra cellist, Concord Academy senior Alex Moskowitz, held his own with his three top-notch quartet mates; this late-Romantic movement was given a beautiful performance. Arensky, who studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, befriended and was deeply influenced by Tchaikovsky, and this could pass easily for a work by his friend, to whom it is dedicated. Although there were no program notes about the pieces, I learned that Arensky is perhaps the only composer to have had a glacier named for him in Antarctica. The seductive richness of having two ‘celli recalls Schubert’s decision to do the same in his String Quintet. There are, as far as my computer knows, no other string quartets for this combination.
Beethoven’s popular Serenade in D Minor, op. 8 is a staple of string trios. Cristof Heubner, artistic director of the Walden Chamber Players and a fine violist, spoke about this piece before it was played. To Huebner, the Beethoven early string trios were like test tubes, without which he would have been a different composer in his string quartets. Some people, Huebner said, argue that the string trios are better than the op. 18 string quartets. The Serenade gives each instrument a chance to shine numerous times, and the balance here, with the ‘cello facing out, was better than in the Kodaly. Each player gave his/her all to the solos, and it was a terrific performance throughout the six movements they played. What was highly puzzling was the omission of the beloved (especially of ‘cellists) “Allegretto alla Pollacca,” the customary fifth movement. This was highly unusual, especially because it is the most popular and memorable movement in this piece.
That said, and creaky church benches aside, it was a wonderful evening of chamber music played by people I’d be very happy to hear again.
Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.