Chamber Music Society brings a refining fire to artful Kreutzer program

Chicago Classical Review

The works presented in the “Kreutzer Connection” concert by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Tuesday night at the Harris Theater made such a logical and complementary program that one wonders why such a mix hasn’t been done more often.

Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831) was the fulcrum, an acclaimed violinist of the early 19th century who is better known to history for the works his name became attached to rather than his own music or accomplishments.

Beethoven dedicated his most epic violin sonata to Kreutzer, a work that bears his name. And Leo Tolstoy wrote a short story, The Kreutzer Sonata, which took literary inspiration from Beethoven’s Op. 47. The tragic love triangle of Tolstoy’s tale in turn inspired Leoš Janácek’s String Quartet No. 1, also titled “The Kreutzer Sonata.”

Clever as the interconnected thread was, the outstanding performances by youthful members of the CMS roster kept audience attention focused on the music.

The Calidore String Quartet led off the evening with Beethoven’s Quartet in F minor, Op. 95. The most concise of Beethoven’s fifteen essays in the genre is also the only quartet he personally titled, and “Serioso” certainly describes this music.

From the bristling attack on the harsh opening motif, the Calidore musicians were clearly in synch with the grim sobriety and mercurial drama of this score. Yet the players also brought consistent tonal refinement, as with the mellow Old World grace of the Allegretto, rendered with impeccable taste and balancing. The segue into the more unsettled middle section was fluently handled and the reprise of the opening section brought back with an even greater sense of yearning.

The players brought daunting intensity to the conflict of the final movement with a dervish burst of virtuosity at the coda, yet without the music ever feeling inflated or out of period. This was world-class Beethoven, exquisitely performed.

The Calidore performance of Janácek’s First Quartet was just as inspired. The Czech composer clearly identified with Tolstoy’s doomed heroine, trapped in a loveless marriage, whose love affair with a dashing young violinist leads to tragedy.

The musicians conveyed the operatic quality and emotional danger of the music, as with the arresting sting of the viola in the opening movement. The off-center polka rhythms of the second movement were jarringly upended by buzzing harmonics, and even the impassioned slow movement spins out into bursts of aggressive violence. 

As with the Beethoven quartet, so accomplished and communicative was this Janácek performance that one had the rare experience of seeming to encounter the music itself without intermediaries. First violinist Jeffrey Myers was especially fine, bringing an almost vocal quality to his solo flights.
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