By Lawrence Budmen

Chamber music on a Sunday afternoon can be an irresistible artistic soufflé. Set in the intimate salon atmosphere of the ballroom at the Leiser Opera Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA, the Chameleon Musicians' Series offers the opportunity to experience chamber music in its purest form. First rate artists gather to enjoy each other's company and play significant works from the highways and byways of the repertoire.

On March 8, 2009 Iris van Eck, cellist and founder of the Chameleon concerts, joined the superb Amernet Quartet and Toby Appel, one of the world's most distinguished violists and faculty member at the Juilliard School and Carnegie Mellon and Yale Universities, for an afternoon of 19th century ensemble works . In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn's birth, one of that composer's masterworks was the centerpiece on a program that also featured a rarity by his contemporary Louise Farrenc and a Tchaikovsky evergreen.

The French born Farrenc (1804-1875) was an active pianist, composer and pedagogue. Her Quintet for 2 violins, viola and 2 cellos, Op.38 is a transcription of a Nonet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and bass. Never published in the composer's lifetime, the score has been issued by Hildegard Publishing Company. A well crafted essay that seems ideal for intimate performance spaces (rather than large concert halls), Farrenc's String Quintet features some lovely melodies that receive formulaic development. This is music that never astounds but offers much pleasure. A charming Scherzo reminiscent of the instrumental writing of Charles Gounod is particularly enticing. Van Eck joined the excellent Amernet players (violinists Misha Vitenson and Marcia Littley Arias, violist Michael Klotz and cellist Javier Arias) for a spirited, elegantly spun rendition of this seldom heard score.

If Farrenc's piece was a pleasant appetizer, Mendelssohn's Quintet for 2 violins, 2 violas and cello in B-flat Major, Op.87 was a stimulating main course, an authentic masterpiece. While Mendelssohn's melodic facility is as rich as ever in this late score, the quintet is replete with new and surprising developments. Thematic threads and contrasts rarely lead to expected ends. Unconventional turns of phrase and developmental journeys abound in this passionate score. The Adagio e lento (third movement) is deeply moving, almost elegiac in spirit and fervor. Not for the musical meek of heart or technique, this Mendelssohn gem requires virtuosic performance by a finely knit ensemble. Buttressed by the rich darkness of Appel's viola resonance, the Amernet Quartet offered an exciting, supple and romantically intense performance. The pulsating vivacity of the players' music making brought the Allegro molto vivace finale to an exhilarating conclusion. Here was chamber music playing at its finest by one of America's stellar ensembles!

Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence is a chamber music mainstay. While airy lightness and thematic richness of Tchaikovsky's musical invention are evident in abundance in this ambitious sextet, the technical and formal rigor of this work is a fine example of the composer's structural mastery. Always considered an inspired melodist, Tchaikovsky has often been underrated for his craftsmanship and the grace and felicitous inventiveness of his instrumental writing.

Chameleon founder Van Eck played the gorgeous cello solos with crystalline musicianship and fervent, heated intensity of utterance. Appel's ruminative tonal glow, subtle phrasing and imposing technique brought depth to the ensemble. With the Amernet Quartet in high voltage form, this Souvenir traced the brooding passion of the Adagio cantabile e con moto and the lithe energy of the concluding Allegro vivace with equal bravura and grace. This super intense performance was a wonderful finale to a delight afternoon of chamber music.

The Chameleon Series presents its concluding concert of the season on April 19, 2009 at the Leiser Opera Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Violinist Dmitri Pogorelov, pianist Kemal Gekic and cellist Iris van Eck play works by Halvorsen, Mendelssohn and Rimsky-Korsakov. See for information.

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