Joanna Kurkowicz and Delores Stevens
Joanna Kurkowicz (left) and Delores Stevens at last weekend's concert in Edgartown. Photos by Ralph Stewart

Grateful for a classical treat

By Mary-Jean Miner - November 30, 2006

The Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society presented an outstanding concert on Thanksgiving weekend. Even in the off-season, our resident chamber group managed to attract a sizeable and appreciative audience. Their loyal fans continue to appreciate their making time for a holiday gift to the Island each Thanksgiving. Finally, we know nearly everyone in the audience and get to meet their holiday guests, kids, and grandkids.

Artistic Director Delores Stevens, as usual, invited outstanding guest artists, including Scott Woolweaver, who is practically a member of the family, thanks to his frequent appearances with the group. Also returning was violinist Joanna Kurkowicz, another familiar name. Joining them was Matthias Naegele, cellist. The musicians and the chosen works were simply outstanding.

Cellist Matthias Naegele
Cellist Matthias Naegele plays a Mozart piece.

They opened with the Mozart Piano Quartet in E Major, which established a warm and intimate mood; the balance was particularly strong; individually, the performers were assertive - perhaps their greatest strength is as an ensemble. All are equally at home with solo performances, but their biographies reveal that all have much experience as chamber musicians, performing both traditional and contemporary works.

The deep, rich larghetto followed an animated allegro, with wonderful interchanges between strings and piano.

Next, Mr. Naegele and Ms. Stevens presented the Adagio from Bach's Viola de Gamba Sonata in G Major, a beautiful and sensitive interpretation, demonstrating the riches of the cello's range.

Ms. Kurkowicz and Ms. Stevens performed four of the 24 Preludes by Dmitri Shostakovich, which, according to Ms. Kurkowicz, are seldom performed in the West, although they are well known in Russia. The preludes, which were originally composed for piano, were transcribed for violin by Lera Auerbach and Dmitri Zyganov, a friend of the composer. Shostakovich himself described the transcriptions as "violinistic." They reflect a deep Russian soul, dark, mysterious, and incredibly powerful. The works display the violin's singing voice so well -they could also be dances.

Scott Woolweaver
Frequent guest musician, Scott Woolweaver.

Eduard Pütz composed "Blues for Benni," a delightful and challenging jazz work, for violist Benni Gutzeit. Scott Woolweaver demonstrated his great feel for jazz in this piece, which embraces all the feelings and shading of the old Forties jazz standards with a thoroughly contemporary edge. Leslie Stark described it as a tour de force for both violist and pianist, "going from Hoagy Carmichael to George Gershwin and back again." The Chamber group has taken to presenting a few jazz works lately, which is a trend we hope will continue!

Finally, the entire ensemble performed the Piano Quartet in G minor of Johannes Brahms, which seemed like the return of a dear friend. The program notes mentioned that this quartet displays the "building of music out of minimal capital, (which) was taken to extremes by Brahms...," quoting musicologist Carl Dahlhaus. The full strength and depth of the allegro led directly to an intense intermezzo, featuring the piano running the melodic line, accented by the strings, then conversing back and forth. The majestic entrance of the andante maintained the strength throughout, with all in total balance. With the rondo, there was an exciting, rhythmic dance, a gypsy ending.

Violinist Joanna Kurkowicz, interviewed during the traditional reception following the concert, pointed out the many joys of performing in the Whaling Church, "It is an excellent place to perform. The room tends to round out the sound." She also appreciated the fact that Delores Stevens chose to include the Shostakovich pieces, as they are not often performed outside of Russia.

The Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society will be presenting another winter concert in March 2007.

Mary-Jean Miner is a freelance writer who lives in Tisbury with two retired racing greyhounds. She frequently writes about classical music, art, and theater.