I found out quite late about OPUS Chamber Music and their current short concert series so I was only able to attend the last show on Sunday evening at Grace Church on-the-Hill. Pianist Kevin Ahfat is the driving force behind these concerts and he was able to marshal an impressive line up including recent Indianopolis Violin Competition gold medallist Serena Huang.
The first half of the programme was essentially French. Brannon Cho joined Kevin for Poulenc’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. It has a lively first movement with jazzy dance rhythms and lots of interaction between the players which showed excellent mutual understanding. The second movement is more limpid and languorous and drew some rather elegantly beautiful sounds from both cello and piano. The third movement is marked “Ballabile” which was new to me. Apparently it refers to a dance by the corps de ballet. I can see that. It’s fast and intricate with lots of pizzicato from the cello. The finale is almost like back to the beginning with more playful interaction between the instruments. Lovely playing in both the livelier and the more lyrical passages with an appropriate sense of Frenchness.
Next up was Serena Huang with one movement, the Aurore, from Ysaÿe’s Sonata No.5 for solo violin. (OK he’s wasn’t French, rather Belgian). This is a virtuoso show piece with slightly unusual technique like strings plucked with the left hand. After that Kevin joined Serena for Ravel’s Sonata No.2 for Violin and Piano. This is a crazy piece with an impressionistic first movement followed by a blues inspired second movement which covers a range of tempi before an absolutely nuts “race to the end”. I really have to admire the way Kevin and Serena navigated the changing moods and their ability to convey a sense of fun. Serena, in particular, is as enjoyable to watch as to listen to.
After a short break Barry Shffman (viola) and Erika Raum (violin) joined the gang for Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 ijn A Major, Op.81. This is quite a hefty work with lots of really excellent melodic invention including the famous cello solo that opens the first movement and is later echoed on violin. The interplay is really quite beautiful and it leads to a really intricate, almost manic, end to the movement. The second movement is slower and even more lyrical and it’s followed by a very scherzando intro to the third movement before reverting to something more lyrical. The finale is fat and energetic. One could see all the communication going on here. It was impressive as was the range of colours everyone was producing. It was just really what one wants from a chamber piece; beauty, cohesion and a sense that everyone was enjoying themselves.
The lovely acoustic of Grace Church helped a lot too. It really is a fine place to listen to small scale music; instrumental or vocal.