An intimate audience was treated to an expansive sampling of the Chicago Ensemble's repertoire Tuesday night at Fourth Presbyterian Church. In a far-reaching program of chamber works, vocal music was the primary focus as soprano Michelle Areyzaga joined violinists Stephen Boe and Rika Seko, cellist Andrew Snow, and pianist Gerald Rizzer under the high, vaulted ceiling of the Michigan Avenue landmark cathedral.
Areyzaga delivered commanding performances in no fewer than four song collections. Her rich, soprano vocals were well suited for Dan Tucker's forceful Spanish Songs without overpowering Alessandro Scarlatti's Cantata: Gia lusingato appieno. In the latter, composed by Domenico's father, the ensemble adopted the Baroque styling of austere accompaniment that always sounds good in a church. Tucker's Spanish Songs are set to poems by Federico Garcia Lorca. The poet's colorful imagery is heightened by distinctive Spanish rhythms and cadences, and Areyzaga's delivery eloquently captured the passionate sadness.
A sampling of French songs by Ernest Chausson and Henri Duparc paired Areyzaga with Rizzer at the piano. The duo spun fragile melodies of longing and loss that seemed related in pathos to Ralph Vaughn Williams's Merciless Beauty, a trio of melancholic songs for soprano, two violins, and cello.
The program also included instrumental turns for Boe and Seko in Sergei Prokofiev's Sonata in C Major for Two Violins. Boe's velvety tone was complemented by Seko's bright sound as the two maneuvered through the Russian's disorienting melodies. The agitated Allegro gave way to a wispy, nostalgic third movement before a rustic conclusion. Both violinists delivered masterful performances.
Cellist Snow closed the concert with Alberto Ginastera's Pampeano No. 2, an example of the Argentine's expressive and creative writing that results in a staggeringly difficult piece. The rhythmic accuracy was lost in the live acoustics of the church, and the rapid flourishes through the instrument's upper registers claimed a few shaky notes, but Snow came through with the appropriate flare.
The concert suffered from ambition and pacing. The program would have had more of an impact had it been an hour and a half song recital; the nearly two hours of various combinations blurred the focus. Additionally, Rizzer's comments before each song might have been better received if they were included in the printed program. Nevertheless, the music was affectionately performed by well-credentialed musicians in a beautiful space--not bad for a Tuesday night.
The Chicago Ensemble will repeat the program Sunday, June 3 at 11:45am at the University of Chicago’s International House.