February 9, 2014 - Currently there are a handful of wonderful, young string ensembles populating the classical music landscape. Kremerata Baltica is one of them, offering excellent performances with the unique twist that the members are all natives of three Baltic states: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Renowned violinist Gidon Kremer (a native of Riga, Latvia—the hometown of another legendary artist, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov) founded the ensemble in 1997 as a way to mentor subsequent generations of musicians from the region, and as a vehicle to explore and showcase repertoire outside the so-called “canon.”
Programming effectively is a constant challenge, and unexpected events may complicate matters, making even the best selection and ordering of repertoire subject to change. Sadly, vocal bass Alexei Mochalov, who was to be the featured soloist in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Anti-Formalist Rayok, had to pull out of performances last minute due to the sudden death of his wife, pianist Mariya Barankina. This, of course, forced a program change for the ensemble. Two works, Mieczysław Weinberg’s Concertino, Op. 42, and Benjamin Britten’s Young Apollo, Op. 16, (with pianist Andrius Zlabys ) replaced Anti-Formalist Rayok.
What was great about the evening was the chance to hear such rarely performed works. In particular, the two Weinberg pieces offered an opportunity to compare and contrast the types of works being written by contemporaries of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Additionally, Young Apollo is a marvelously spirited work that is far too neglected as it is not quite long enough for most concerts featuring (and bringing in) a piano soloist.
One unfortunate result of the programming change was the placement of Weinberg’s Symphony No. 10 before the Shostakovich Sonata Op. 134. The two pieces seemed a little too similar in some sections—mood, pacing—and felt redundant. Furthermore, the arrangement of the sonata for violin and piano did not quite seem to work to its optimal potential. In the original instrumentation, the violin is, by default, set apart from the sound of the piano. However, when placed in the context of other strings, Kremer’s sound seemed to get lost. These concerns aside, Kremerata Baltica is a fantastically talented, skilled collective.
The quality and array of tones and colors the group displayed throughout the evening enriched each selection with thoughtfulness and depth, ethos and precision. Their ability to draw a crowd was evidenced by the solid attendance, which is saying something given the fact that Riccardo Muti and the CSO were presenting a concert at the same time just down the street. The appreciative audience was treated to two encores at the end of the night: Rag-Gidon-Time by Giya Kancheli, and an arrangement of Weinberg’s Bonifatsy's Holidays.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts