By Lawrence Budmen

The brooding, melancholy strains of the Elegia, Adagio from Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio in D Minor, Op.32 seem to evoke a different world, the Proustian musical reminiscence of things past – albeit a Russian (rather than French) one. This infrequently played chamber music masterpiece formed the bracing conclusion of the final concert of the season by Chameleon Musicians on May 21 at the Josephine Leiser Opera Center in Ft. Lauderdale. 

Arensky was a pupil of Tchaikovsky. He eventually taught Alexander Scriabin and Nikolai Medtner at the Moscow Conservatory. Arensky’s small but outstanding compositional output sings with the spirit of Russian romanticism; yet he managed to bring new blood and vitality to a traditional musical language. The Piano Trio is a superb work that brims with inspired melodies, intense instrumental utterance, and bravura display. While Tchaikovsky’s Trio is clearly this work’s antecedent, Arensky’s score is both more classically restrained and vibrantly exhilarating.

The Chameleon performance marked the afternoon’s high point. Michael Klotz, the superb violist of the Amernet String Quartet, switched to the violin and proved to be formidable on that instrument. The founder and director of the Chameleon series Iris van Eck brought her superbly burnished tone and musical intelligence to the cello line. Pianist Misha Dacic (well known locally from his appearances at the Miami International Piano Festival) offered deep understanding of the work’s Slavic passion.

The gorgeous violin-cello interaction between Van Eck and Klotz propelled the Elegia to glowing heights. This music needs to be played with heart. They offered plenty of that plus a wonderful sense of musical spontaneity. Dacic’s rippling pianistic runs set the Scherzo, Allegro Molto on fire. Klotz’s violin glistened in the glorious opening theme of the initial Allegro moderato. The entire movement was played by this formidable threesome with uninhibited white heat. The Finale, Allegro non troppo was simply brilliant. Here was a performance to remember!

The Arensky was Dacic’s best offering of the afternoon. This gifted pianist struggled with the Leiser Center’s clunky, ill sounding piano. He managed to play Rachmaninoff’s Andante from the Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op.19 (in the beautiful transcription by the formidable Arcadi Volodos) with exquisite lyrical line. Polka Italienne, however, failed to sparkle. Dacic has played these pieces wonderfully in the past. He was clearly hampered by the deficient keyboard instrument. 

Klotz dedicated his performance of Grieg’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in C Minor, Op.45 to the memory of the great violinist and pedagogue Oscar Shumsky. He had first heard this melodious score through a recording by Shumsky and Seymour Lipkin. Grieg’s penchant for endlessly beautiful melodies takes wing in this violinistic tour de force. Klotz basked in the score’s lyricism but also offered scintillating violinistic fireworks. With Dacic providing forceful underpinning, the music’s debt to Brahms was vividly conveyed.

Van Eck opened the program with a genuine rarity – Alexander Borodin’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in B Minor. Fascinated with the music of Bach, the composer used two themes from that master’s Cello Suites as inspiration and unifying motifs in the sonata’s three movements. (The third movement was left incomplete in an unpublished manuscript. Michael Goldstein completed the score from the composer’s sketches.) Two soaring themes in this appealing score were recycled by Borodin in his Second Symphony and the opera Prince Igor. Van Eck played this interesting work with communicative intensity and deeply felt commitment. Her lovely tone caressed the piece’s songful outbursts. A worthy revival!

As an encore, Van Eck, Klotz, and Dacic offered Fritz Kreisler’s Little Vienesse March – played with schmaltzy brio and insouciant flair. 

The intimacy of the Leiser Center’s ballroom is perfect for chamber music. Here musicians communicate the sheer pleasure of music making with a directness and intimacy that is lacking in more formal concert halls. The Chameleon series is a real gem.

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