Review of “Lesser Known Gems of the Great Composers”

Review By Roger Emanuels, Performing Arts Monterey

VIOLINIST ROY MALAN was responsible for the delightful program of the Santa Cruz Chamber Players on October 29 at Christ Lutheran Church in Aptos. Billed as a program of “Lesser known gems of the great composers,” it should have read “Lesser performed gems…,” because among string players these works are well known and often played, though perhaps not so much on the concert stage. The program favored the strings, with the piano participating in the final piece only, a trio by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

George Gershwin composed Lullaby for string quartet at the age of 21 as a student class assignment. It was a sweet opener to this concert, with gentle sounds enhanced by ringing harmonics in the highest register of the violin. The slightly syncopated rhythms are gently incorporated into the fabric. Malan was joined by Susan Freier, violin; Polly Malan, viola; and Stephen Harrison, cello. They produced a lush sound with flexible rhythmic pacing. The 1919 work carries hints of French composers of the era.

Antonin Dvořák’s Terzetto for two violins and viola is a happy piece that players often enjoy in spontaneous home readings. The ensemble of the Malans and Freier was well-matched. They brought out the joy in Dvořák’s writing. The third movement Scherzo erupted with lively Czech folklore in this performance

But the meat and potatoes of the program was the Elegiac Trio No. 2 of Rachmaninoff. As in the Gershwin, this is a youthful work, composed at age 20. Written as a response to the recent death of Tchaikovsky, the young Rachmaninoff pours out his heart over the three movements. The work is large, with harmonies and melodies that the composer will later incorporate into the piano concertos that audiences have come to know and love.

The performance was marked by a shared sense of purpose among the players. Malan’s playing is characterized by rhythmic expressivity with vivid shadings of tone color. That seemed to influence Harrison’s warm cello sound that matched the violin especially in lyrical duet moments. Pianist Keisuke Nakogoshi (pictured) provided a strong performance that complemented the strings without overpowering them. Even in climactic and loud moments his sound was warm and never heavy. The opening movement has huge proportions and expresses a large range of emotions, from delicately quiet and tender to thunderous statements. The second movement, a theme and variations, allowed the ensemble to explore a great variety of expressive sounds. The final movement is surprisingly concise, and brings the monumental work to a somber and quiet close.