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Chamber Music fest brings too-brief taste of classical talent

Chamber Music fest brings too-brief taste of classical talent

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The second season of the Missouri Chamber Music Festival, founded by the husband-and-wife team of pianist Nina Ferrigno and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra principal clarinet Scott Andrews, again brought a long weekend of top-notch chamber music to St. Louis.

The players were divided between in- and out-of-towners, with impressive performances from all.

I missed the first concert, "Phantasy," on Thursday. "Glisten," on Friday, opened with Two Songs for Mezzo, Viola and Piano, op. 91, by Johannes Brahms: "Gestillte Sehnsucht (Stilled Longing)" and "Geistliches Wiegenlied (Sacred Lullaby)," performed by Opera Theatre of St. Louis Gerdine Young Artist Raehann Bryce-Davis with Ferrigno and violist Amadi Azikiwe.

Ferrigno and Azikiwe were sensitive partners in the music-making. Bryce-Davis has a beautiful dark instrument, which she uses expressively. A tendency to sway was distracting in an otherwise fine performance.

The Calyx Piano Trio (Ferringo, violinist Catherine French, cellist Jennifer Lucht) gave us the pleasure of observing a long-standing musical partnership in action in a perfectly attuned, perfectly delightful Variations in G (Kakadu) for Piano Trio, op. 121a, by Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven's String Trio in C minor, op. 9, No. 3, closed the program with passionate performances from all three.

This year's composer in residence was Lansing McLoskey, whose roots are in punk rock. "Glisten," composed for Calyx, was written with the idea that an artist would create a painting as it was played.

That wasn't feasible in the nave of First Congregational Church of Webster Groves, so instead an invitation was issued to St. Louis painters to attend a rehearsal. A dozen of their efforts, crafted in "Glisten's" 18 minutes, were on view.

It's demanding, a combination of skittering passages on the strings followed by moments of lyricism and seemingly random collections of notes on the piano. The "Aria" movement, for violin, was skillfully played by French.

Saturday night's "Finale" was a dessert flight, three brief but pleasing works to end the festival. McLoskey's "Processione di lacrime (Pavan)" is a melancholy piece that puts its players at interestingly cross purposes, with some pretty writing for English horn.

Jean Françaix's Quartet for English Horn, Violin, Viola and Cello is a fun, sophisticated work that received a suitably playful, sparkling and witty performance from superb English hornist Robert Sheena, French, Azikiwe and SLSO associate principal cello Melissa Brooks.

The final work, of the evening and of the festival, was Antonín Dvořák's transcendent Piano Quintet in A major. It has it all, from beautiful melodies to gorgeous writing for all five performers, wonderful colors and memorable textures.

It's a true masterpiece, and Ferrigno, violinists Maria Schleuning and French, Azikiwe and Brooks performed it like one with intensity and musical energy, for a splendid conclusion to a too-short festival.

McLoskey spoke for a solid half-hour before both concerts; on Saturday, he talked three times longer than it took to play his piece. He's a good and likable speaker, but sometimes it's best to let the music do more of the talking.

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