It was a standing-room-only affair on the stage of the Alberta Rose Theatre at the Chamber Music Northwest concert on Wednesday, July 10. That’s because each of the four pieces on the all-British program involved 15 to 18 players, and the stage area is… well… not expansive. So only the cellists were seated. The cozy confines seemed to enhance the concertizing, and the ensembles delivered memorable performances of Vaughn Williams, Elgar, Purcell, and Britten for an appreciative audience that filled the hall.
Glowing, revelatory, superb… you name it, the performance of Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge highlighted the evening with virtuosic, incisive playing. A group of 16 introduced the theme with precision and then took the audience on a wild ride of imaginative variations that Britten concocted at the age of 24. Violinists Yura Lee, Benjamin Hoffman, violist Jeremy Berry, and cellist Sophie Shao were expert principals, leading the ensemble to fearlessly express the wide range of emotions in the piece.
The largest ensemble of the evening managed to find just enough elbow room to give a lovely performance of Vaughn Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The 18 musicians were divided into two orchestras and a solo quartet. Together they generated a lush sound that was heavenly with a warm, expansive sound that only needed a bit of reverberation.
Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings received a vigorous interpretation. The 16 players got a little carried away during one of the tutti sections, and it became difficult for them to turn down the volume level to create more contrast. Still, their enthusiasm was infectious, and they won over the listeners.
Another ensemble of 16 gave an elegant performance of Purcell’s Chacony in G Minor in an arrangement by Britten. Yet it was a little dull because the most of the piece was played at the forte level except the very end.
Overall, the level of playing was very high, but a conductor might have helped to shape the Elgar and the Purcell.