THE Winnipeg Chamber Music Society took listeners on a rare journey into the intimate heart and mind of one of the world's most beloved composers during its latest concert, An Evening of Tchaikovsky, held in conjunction with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's Tchaikovsky Festival that wraps up this weekend.
The unusual, mid-week concert featured lesser-known chamber works by the 19th-century Russian master, who is more typically hailed for his large-scale symphonies, grand operas and soaring classical ballet scores. Many of the programmed five works -- and particularly those transcribed from original orchestral arrangements -- afforded a close look at the iconic composer's evocative music.
There is nothing quite like hearing a Russian artist performing soulful music from the motherland. Guest pianist Ilya Yakushev's (who also performs with the WSO this weekend) riveting delivery of the darkly brooding Dumka, Op. 59 (Slavic for "thought") held the rapt audience in the palm of his hand. His luminous tone -- particularly in the uppermost register where his notes rang like bells -- was underscored by volatile temperament, with the soloist even stamping his foot during the one-movement work's more rhythmical section. His sudden fortississimo chords that broke into his hushed, carefully articulated coda, crashed like thunderbolts.
Another treat was hearing WSO concertmaster Gwen Hoebig perform the exquisitely lyrical Méditation from Souvenir d'un lieu cher (Memory of a dear place), Op. 42 with husband/pianist/artistic director David Moroz. Surely this piece, composed in two days and originally intended as the slow movement for Tchaikovky's Violin Concerto, is one the gifted musician has played her entire life. Her deeply felt performance showcased her long arching phrasing, focused intensity and vibrant tone, with Moroz's always elegant playing, including lightly executed runs, providing a satisfying accompaniment.
Three excerpts -- Autumn Song (October), Barcarolle (June) and Carnival (February) -- from The Seasons, Op. 37, performed by violinst Karl Stobbe, cellist Yuri Hooker and Moroz, showed the composer's skill at creating perfectly crafted short musical jewels. Depicting one respective month of the year, each miniature expounds its own character with the melodious Autumn Song proving both a concert highlight and timely choice.
Hooker and Moroz also performed an expressive rendition of Pezzo Capriccioso, Op. 62, attacking the decidedly non-capricious work with conviction. Hooker handled the rapid-fire runs with aplomb, setting the pace during the mobile passages that puncutate the evocative theme.
Quartet in D major, Op. 11 is renowned for its searing second movement that reputedly drove Leo Tolstoy to tears during its 1871 Moscow première. The Clearwater String Quartet -- Hoebig, Stobbe, Daniel Scholz (violist) and Hooker -- took the stage after the break to perform the four-movement work, nicknamed the Accordion for its opening movement's squeezebox-evoking chords and unusual, 9/8 meter.