Mark Gresham | 24 JUL 2019
Violinist Philippe Quint and cellist Ani Aznavoorian were featured guests of the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival this past weekend in two separate programs along with a handful of musicians who are familiar to the summer festival that makes its home in the the mountains of western North Carolina.
For Saturday’s program at the Albert Carlton Library in Cashiers, Quint and Aznavoorian were joined by pianist Elizabeth Pridgen for a program entitled “Concerto Night.” Pridgen kicked off the evening with a piano solo, Robert Schumann’s “Concerto Without Orchestra” – a contradictory nickname given to the composer’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 14, by publisher Tobias Haslinger, entirely for promotional purposes.
Yet the gist of such a moniker isn’t entirely unwarranted, as the piece does come across as grand in its expression. Pridgen proved herself most capable of both that and the technical challenges of the piece, particularly the final movement, even given the disadvantage of the rather small grand piano at hand. It would be great to hear her play it again on a first-rate full concert grand.
Two actual concertos followed, both immensely popular examples of the genre, with Pridgen’s piano substituting for orchestra. Despite the absence of the thrill and color provided by full orchestra, renditions where the soloist plays with piano can offer a different, fresher perspective on the solo parts themselves, revealing details more readily when heard up close without competing with the larger accompanying forces.
First, Aznavoorian played the Cello Concerto of Edward Elgar. Aznavoorian demonstrated her capacity for an impressively bold, vibrant tone that really sings, cutting through the air with energetic presence. Worthy of mention here: she performs on a cello made by her father, Chicago violin maker Peter Aznavoorian.
Quint performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, which brought out both his lyrical and technical acumen — particularly in the area of velocity which doesn’t abandon precision in the process.
On Sunday evening at the Highlands Performing Arts Center, Quint and Aznavoorian teamed up with violinist Helen Hwaya Kim, violists Yinzi Kong and Scott Rawls, and cellist Charae Krueger for a concert of chamber music for strings only.
A pair of classical works comprised the first half: Mozart’s Duo for Violin and Viola in G major, K. 423, performed by Quint and Kong, a lean and buoyant piece in which the viola part is treated as a near-equal to that of the violin. Aznavoorian then joined them for Beethoven’s Trio for Strings in D major, Op. 9 No. 2, which possessed a warmer, more intimate atmosphere, especially the somewhat melancholic second movement.
The concert concluded with Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, for string sextet. It was an energetic, vigorous workout for the six musicians. The first movement had such an impact that when it was done, Quint turned to the audience and joked that “We could easily end this piece right here.” But it was good they didn’t, as the final movement outshone the first and the audience rose to its feet at its end, offering the players an emphatic ovation. ■