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With or without words – the topic of love permeates Chamber Music Northwest concert

One of the first concerts of this year’s summer festival tore down the house with music by Schubert and Fauré.

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Fleur Barron and Gloria Chien performed Schubert at Kaul Auditorium for CMNW 2023. Photo by Tom Emerson.
Fleur Barron and Gloria Chien performed Schubert at Kaul Auditorium for CMNW 2023. Photo by Tom Emerson.

Chamber Music Northwest continued its celebration of Poetry in Music with a highly-charged concert (June 29) at the Patricia Center for the Arts. A full house heard poetic texts in the art songs of Franz Schubert, and purely sonic poetry without words in his Fantasy for Violin and Piano and in Gabriel Fauré’s Second Piano Quartet. Setting the scene for the evening’s music, Oregon poet Irene Cooper read two of her poems evoking vibrant reflections about love. 

Operatic literature is stocked with male roles played by women, typically mezzo-soprano and contraltos. Some of the most famous of these “pants roles” are Cherubino (The Marriage of Figaro), Siebel (Faust), and Hansel (Hänsel und Gretel). In this CMNW concert, mezzo Fleur Barron pushed the gender bending concept into the field of lieder by singing six selections from Schubert’s Schwanengesang (Swan Song) with wonderful accompaniment by pianist Gloria Chien. All of the songs use poetry – from Ludwig Rellstab, Heinrich Heine, and Johann Gabriel Seidl – to express the feelings of a person searching for love, losing love, and other reflective moods about love. A couple of the songs clearly indicate affections for a woman (the German language is specific in such matters). Barron delivered each lied with charismatic intensity that went straight to the heart.

Barron set the stage defiantly and ardently with the macho Kriegers Ahnung (Warrior’s Foreboding), which is set around a soldier’s campfire before the next battle and longing for the beloved. Continuing with the famous Ständchen (Serenade), Barron passionately expressed the desire for love, then dampened it with the unexplained sadness of Aufenthalt (Resting Place). Das Fishermädchen (The Fisher-Maiden), with its gently rocking rhythm, ended with Barron’s charming smile–but she countered that with the tormented memory of love lost in Der Doppelgänger (The Double). The set concluded on a lighter and more hopeful note with Die Taubenpost (The Pigeon Post), which was rewarded with sustained applause for the artistry of Barron and Chien.

Violinist Benjamin Beilman and Chien teamed up to delightfully elicit Schubert’s highly emotional Fantasy for Violin and Piano, which meandered in a yin-yang kind of way between delicately sweet and furiously agitated passages. Based on Sei mir gegrüsst (I greet you), a song that Schubert wrote six years earlier in 1821, his Fantasy restlessly switched between sublime lyricism and tear-down-the-house sections. That gave the piece an episodic style, which ended in thrilling fashion with Beilman and Chien crossing the finish line in a dead heat. 

Benjamin Beilman and Gloria Chien performed Schubert at Kaul Auditorium for CMNW 2023. Photo by Tom Emerson.
Benjamin Beilman and Gloria Chien performed Schubert at Kaul Auditorium for CMNW 2023. Photo by Tom Emerson.

Violist Paul Neubauer and cellist Zlatomir Fung joined Chien and Beilman in a very emotive interpretation of Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 2. After a bold opening statement, the ensemble fashioned an elegant first movement that was topped with some glassy, super smooth high-wire notes by Beilman. The second picked up the pace with fresh melodic themes. The third offered a meditative and melancholic spin, and the fourth movement seesawed between stormy outbursts and more reflective sections until wrapping things up with a gloriously effusive finale. 

CMNW’s co-artistic director Gloria Chien did the yeoman’s work of playing in each piece of the program. Her superb talent at the keyboard and collaborative listening skills enhanced the music to a gem-like perfection. 

Benjamin Beilman, Gloria Chien, Zlatomir Fung, and Paul Neubauer performed Fauré at Kaul Auditorium for CMNW 2023. Photo by Tom Emerson.
Benjamin Beilman, Gloria Chien, Zlatomir Fung, and Paul Neubauer performed Fauré at Kaul Auditorium for CMNW 2023. Photo by Tom Emerson.

As an extra treat, in the lobby of the Reser, a capacity crowd heard a spellbinding pre-concert performance by 17-year-old Christy Kim. She mesmerized listeners with Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, accompanied by pianist Kyunga Lee. Kim, a member of CMNW’s Young Artists Institute, drew a vociferous standing ovation from the rapt listeners, and that really set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Sponsor

All Classical Radio James Depreist

Kim and her colleagues from the Young Artist Institute will perform at 7 p.m. this Friday, July 7, at the Pilot House on the campus of the University of Portland. It’s a free concert where you can hear the next generation of outstanding musicians playing new works in collaboration with young composers from Fear No Music and local young poets.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

James Bash enjoys writing for The Oregonian, The Columbian, Classical Voice North America, Opera, and many other publications. He has also written articles for the Oregon Arts Commission and the Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition. He received a fellowship to the 2008 NEA Journalism Institute for Classical Music and Opera, and is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America.
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