By Gigi Yellen
Muscular. Delicate. Impeccable. Polished. Quick descriptions, all, of performances that deserved a bigger audience Saturday night at Nordstrom Recital Hall, opening the third season of Seattle’s Russian Chamber Music Foundation concerts. Pianist Natalya Ageyeva, artistic director, at the keyboard for two of the three works on the program, anchored the concert with a dazzling technique. Her Russian-composer programming was pretty dazzling, too, introducing a rarely-heard piano trio by Schubert’s contemporary Alexander Alyabiev; five Novelettes by the teenage Alexander Glazunov; and, in a sterling performance, the 1941 Piano Quintet in g, op. 57, by Glazunov’s most famous pupil, Dmitri Shostakovich.
Alyabiev (1781-1851) speaks the language of the early Romantic period. (This is the composer of the song “Nightingale,” made famous by its inclusion in Rossini’s Barber of Seville.) Alyabiev’s three-movement Piano Trio in A minor is classically balanced, graceful but challenging, especially in the opening Allegro, as the piano supports a dramatic dialogue between violin and cello. Cellist Andrey Tchekmazov and violinist Megumi Stohs, both of whom played in all three works on the evening’s program, delivered robust, committed performances. By the Trio’s final Allegretto, the pianist never seems to get a rest. This is a work worth hearing again; no doubt this is part of the mission of this ensemble, to introduce concert audiences to overlooked treasures.
The five character pieces for string quartet, “Novelettes,” by the sixteen-year-old Alexander Glazunov, range from Spanish to “oriental,” from a waltz to a Hungarian-flavored finale. Cellist Tchekmazov—acclaimed performer on world stages, recording artist for NAXOS and Delos—soared in a melancholy solo in the opening Spanish number. A “Valse” movement stretches the idea of the era’s popular dance craze into crimped harmonies that anticipate Ravel’s later, ironic “La Valse.” An intermezzo movement, marked “in modo antico,” includes a stunning fugal passage. At the end, a dreamlike coda brought home the ensemble’s skill in exploring a wide range of dynamics, conveying the young composer’s already-evident gift for musical color.
The well-matched ensemble included, in addition to Tchekmazov and violinist Stohs, violinist Brittany Boulding, now concertmaster and soloist of the Auburn Symphony Orchestra, Bellevue Philharmonic and 5th Avenue Theatre (whom Northwest music lovers have watched grow up as a performing member of the “Magical Strings” Boulding family); and Seattle Symphony violist Mara Gearman, also a regular with Simple Measures and the American String Project. Stohs, trained at the New England Conservatory, a veteran of a pop-music band tour, is an award-winning fiddler as well as co-founder of two string quartets and a New Jersey chamber music series.
Stohs played second fiddle in the Glazunov, and Boulding took that role in the Shostakovich piano Quintet in g, op. 57. This 1940 composition—ironically, given the composer’s tortuous struggles with Stalinist ideology, a 1941 Stalin Prize winner—received a performance of conviction and delicacy. The playing was impeccable: muscular in the Prelude, delicate in the Fugue, meditative in the Intermezzo’s violin solo.
KING FM host Sean Maclean’s onstage introductions enhanced the music with lively biographical anecdotes. The hall’s splendid acoustics emphasized the robust, well-blended energies of the performers. The Russian consulate’s delivery of a big bouquet of roses concluded the concert with a reminder of the extramusical significance of the evening.