The Vancouver Chamber Music Series kicked off its 8th season with a wide variety of works, many of which connected well with the waning days of summer. A rotating group of musicians, mostly members of the Vancouver Symphony, along with some very talented friends took turns getting into position on the small, but adequate stage, at Kiggins Theatre, which, by the way, has a fine acoustic for chamber music. Except for the solos that Dimitri Zhgenti played, all of the works included Michael Liu, who has played the keyboard with the orchestra since 2002.
Zhgenti, who will be featured in Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto with the orchestra later this year, played the most demanding pieces of the concert. He conveyed three selections by Rachmaninoff with verve and an excellent sense of contrasting the various moods and theme. The Prelude Op. 23 in G minor juxtaposed the springy opening with the highly Romantic second theme. The Etude-Tableaux Op. 33 No 8 in G minor had a delicate and far-away sound. The Etude-Tableaux Op 39 No.1 in offered a rolling wave of notes and a memorably emphatic, crisp ending.
Zhgenti tackled Schumann’s “Symphonic Etudes,” one of the most difficult works in piano literature with gusto. He demonstrated excellent articulation and conquered most of its complex and intricate passages, but he seemed to experience some slippage later in the piece yet recovered unscathed.
The program featured several pieces by Nicole Buetti, who has played bassoon with the orchestra since 2014. She collaborated with flutist Darren Cook and pianist Liu in “The Gelato Trio.” Its first movement, “Life Without Gelato,” painted a melancholic picture that ended in an unresolved state. It was followed by a lighter and carefree “Life With Gelato,” which topped the piece off in satisfyingly. In “The Lake,” Buetti created a lush and lovely scene with flutist Corrie Cook and pianist Liu.
Buetti’s “The Chase” evoked a group of waddling ducks through her bassoon playing along with cellist Betsy Goy and Liu. Buetti’s humorous side was also on display in her arrangement of “Take Five” that featured the contra-bassoon playing the melodic line, descending into the basement with gusto. Liu provided some bounce with the stride piano style, Ed Sale added the bass, and Bruce Barnes whisked up the rhythm on the drum set.
Husband-wife flutists, Darren and Corrie Cook, paired up with Liu to perform Jennifer Grady’s gentle and lilting “Soaring.” Later in the program, the Cooks used the double-tonguing technique to create the sense of fluttering birds against a calm sky of light chords from Liu.
Clarinetist Steve Bass and Liu put the audience in the midst of flowers and veggies with their expressive rendition of Paul Reade’s “Suite” from an 80s-era BBC TV series called “The Victorian Garden.” Bass skipped carefully through Finzi’s Bagatelle No 1, “Prelude,” but seemed to slip a bit here and there.
Concertmaster Eva Richey delivered a sensitive performance of the Meditation from Massenet’s opera “Thais.” She followed that with an energetic interpretation of the Hoe-Down movement from Copland’s “Rodeo.” Pianist Liu provided impeccable accompaniment of both pieces.
The final number, an arrangement of Astor Piazzola’s “Libertango” by Uwe Rossler, got all of the musicians on stage. The piece got better as it went along and put a smile on the faces of the audience as they went out into the late afternoon sun.