Three works emphasizing the cello gave the program on the UW Chamber Music Series an unusual slant at Meany Theater Tuesday night. Five players from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s roster came for the performance, two of whom are familiar names here: violinist Ani Kavafian and Peninsula-raised violist Richard O’Neill.
They brought with them Jean-Baptiste Barriere’s Sonata for Two Cellos in G Major, Boccherini’s String Quintet in C Major, G 349, and Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, D 956.
Barriere is hardly a household name in musical circles, but he was one of the first to emphasize the capabilities of a relatively new instrument at a time when viola da gamba still reigned supreme. A cellist himself, Barriere composed this sonata in 1739, a time when Bach and Handel were in their prime.
Nicholas Canellakis and Jakob Koranyi performed it in a style that honored its Baroque beginnings, their playing light on the strings, the tone not pulled out but released to float out to the far corners of Meany. This delightful work displays the instruments with runs requiring clarity and considerable agility, with verve, and in the second movement, with emotional declamatory style. Canellakis and Koranyi matched each other so well, it was only by watching closely that one could tell which musician was playing.
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Only 40 years later it was the heyday of the string ensemble, with Haydn, father of the string quartet, in full creative flow. Boccherini, like Barriere a virtuoso cellist, had mastered the art of composing for unusual combinations — often of two violins, one viola and two cellos — quintets that show off his instrument but don’t upset the balance of the grouping.
The fine work of the Lincoln Center players, the two cellists being joined by Kavafian, violinist Yura Lee and O’Neill, was slightly marred by Lee. In her first violin role, she used a much more aggressive approach in louder passages than the others, who stuck to a more early classical style. Character and charm grace this work. It’s substantial, and like much of Boccherini, who wrote 110 cello quintets, deserves more exposure.
The Barriere and Boccherini together made a short first half. The second half comprised the Schubert Quintet, his last instrumental work, one of substance and power that incorporates, as always, the composer’s bountiful melodic gifts and gives little sign that the young composer was mortally ill. Yet in this performance, it felt that in the second and third movements there was a thread of acceptance running through, not so much resignation. The performance was riveting, every detail clear, the quality of each performer coming through while always close in ensemble.
A less-than-sold-out audience, though a deeply appreciative one, attended this concert. Perhaps the lovely weather had something to do with it, but it was a shame that the hall was not full for a superb concert with an unusual theme.