Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chamber Music Northwest presents terrific works by Tower, Zwilich, Shaw, and Smith

Calidore String Quartet and the Claremont Trio | Photo credit: Tom Emerson
Chamber Music Northwest topped off its weeklong celebration of music by women composers with a doozy of concert on Saturday evening (July 15) at Kaul Auditorium. The program presented impressive works by Joan Tower, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Caroline Shaw, and Gabriella Smith for a variety of string ensembles. I was excited to hear works by the two veterans Tower and Zwilich, and rising star Shaw, but CMNW’s protégé composer Smith surprised me again (see New@Noon concert review) with another fascinating piece that was right up in the same league as her colleagues.

Even though Smith’s piece had the seemingly innocent title of “Carrot Revolution,” (2015) the music that she devised had tantalizingly complex rhythms and lots of brief melodic detours. Played by violinists Tomas Cotik and Rebecca Anderson, violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, and cellist Nancy Ives, the music launched with Ives patting a pulsating beat before being joined by her colleagues in a series of slip-sliding sounds – some of which seemed scratchy. The cello led the way with a bluesy motif and another round of tapping that was followed by a herky-herky and folksy-fiddly section for the entire ensemble. Soulful melodic lines for the viola and cello, throbbing, vibrant passages for the foursome, and a hypnotic section that sounded as if the entire collective were melting down and changing keys along the way – was pretty awesome. The finale arrived on a zippy note that made me want to hear it all again… or at least ask the ushers for a glass of carrot juice.

The Calidore String Quartet (violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry, and cellist Estelle Choir) performed Shaw’s “Entr’acte" (2011) with terrific finesse. The dance-like opening contained some deliciously thin pauses and a delicate whispery section in which no real tone could be distinguished. A steady tic-toc passage gave way to an extended pizzicato section that moved into a series of sighs After returning to the first theme, the piece concluded with a strumming cello. I liked the piece, but it seemed to rely on experimentation for experimentation’s sake.

In introducing “White Water” (String Quartet No. 5) (2011), Tower said that she wanted to explore speed and weight. As played by the Calidore String Quartet, the music definitely conveyed that feeling. In the first few minutes, there seemed to be the sound of a spring bubbling upwards followed by splashes that erupted out of a mountainside. Edgy rivulets of sound sprang up and flowed down quick tempo. Wild glissandi seemed to underscore the untamed nature of the piece. High violins whined against a slower current from the viola and cello and after a while the piece rested calmly in harmonically-resolved waters.

One of the cool things about Zwilich’s “Septet for Piano Trio and String Quartet” (2008) was the arrangement of the Claremont Trio (violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin, and pianist Andrea Lam) on the inside and the Calidore String Quartet on the outer corners. The music for the two ensembles took off with the Claremonters racing and the Calidorians playing the role of the Steady Eddies. That all got changed around with pianist Lam being an instigator-agitator. One of the themes in the second movement was slightly sinister, and it was countered in the third by a sprightly melodic line. One of the highlights of the fourth movement (“Au revoir”) was how the instruments passed the same note from one to the next all the way across the collective ensemble. That was a real treat. It seemed like some of the ends of phrases in this piece needed a little more tightening up. But overall, it was a delight to hear the two ensembles play this challenging piece.

No comments: