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On the evening of March 10, in Reynolds Industries Theater, the Chamber Arts Society presented the string sextet Concertante in a program of music by Strauss, Dvorák and Tchaikovsky. Savvy music lovers will immediately know that the Tchaikovsky entry was the so-called "Souvenir de Florence," one of the Russian master's comparatively few chamber works. It is also his largest work for small ensemble and his last such. Live performances of the score are comparatively rare, and performances of it by ensembles that earn their keep as sextets (as opposed to those given by regular quartets that bring in two extra players for the occasion) are rarer still. The comparatively youthful group known as Concertante - whose members are violinists Ittai Shapira and Xiao-Dong Wang, violists Ara Gregorian (currently based at ECU) and Rachel Shapiro, and cellists Edward Arron (whose January performance of Schumann's Concerto is reviewed our archives) and Zvi Plesser - gave an exuberant performance of the score that reflected the energy and enthusiasm that were everywhere apparent throughout the Durham program. The players are not yet household names but all bear watching. The violinists' pedigrees--there were bios of the players in the program--are impressive, and Shapira, who is from Israel, crawled into the Tchaikovsky (and literally led it, too), in effect wearing the music on his sleeve. Gregorian is a known entity in NC, but Shapiro's background will interest Triangle residents for among her teachers is George Taylor, former violist of the Ciompi Quartet and founding conductor of the group presently known as The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle. Plesser, one of the group's two cellists, is also a member of the Huberman String Quartet, which (due to illness of a player) Concertante replaced in Durham on exceedingly short notice. His stand partner, Aaron, is also involved with the Caramoor Virtuosi, which regularly appears at Charleston's Spoleto Festival.
The concert began with the String Sextet from Strauss' last opera, Capriccio . Like Tchaikovsky, Strauss didn't write a lot of chamber music, so this operatic introduction turns up from time to time on recordings and sextet concerts, invariably shorn of the vocal carryings-on that overlay it in the theatre. It can be a profoundly moving experience that suggests the great "Metamorphosen," for 23 solo strings, and on this occasion, for this listener, it was.
Dvorák's Sextet in A, Op. 48, was also given. The composer produced a slew of music for chamber groups, and this score is one of his finest. The finale is, as Lucy Miller's notes reminded us, a set of six variations, and each was brilliantly realized by the visitors.
Concertante rotates players, so Shapria led the Dvorák and the Tchaikovsky and Wang led the Strauss. The violists switched chairs during the program, too, so only the cellists wound up in the same chairs they'd occupied at the outset when the concert was over. It was quite a show.