Winter Chamber Music Festival
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall; Fri 8, Sun 10
The 2010 Winter Chamber Fest does more to combat January doldrums than merely offer something to do inside a heated building. The programming, too, counters the frigid outdoors with lush, lively, fevered and Romantic pieces.
Though born in Finland, lesser-known Bernhard Crusell imbued his clarinet works (he played the instrument himself) with the jaunty, carefree air of a Viennese summer. On Friday 8, the composer’s third clarinet quartet is one of four pieces tackled by the Evanston Chamber Ensemble, joined by CSO members Michael Mulcahy (trombone), Stephen Balderston (cello), Lawrence Neuman (viola) and Blair Milton (violin). Written for the odd combination of flute, clarinet, two bassoons, two trumpets and tenor and bass trombones, Stravinsky’s Octet for Wind Instruments promises to flit along with avian rambunctiousness and neo-Classical pomp.
Cello luminary Lynn Harrell takes the spotlight on Sunday 10, leading Brahms’s Quintet No. 2 and Sextet No. 1 for strings. The German penned the former in 1890 while vacationing in Italy, just before announcing his retirement (it lasted less time than Jay-Z’s). Fittingly, the piece oozes warmth and relaxation.
Heat rises from burning loins in the Sextet, which chronicles Brahms’s affair with Agathe von Siebold. Written over the pair’s nine-year relationship—from crush to breakup—the stormy work builds upon a musical near-anagram of the woman’s German name, Agate: A-G-A-B-E. It’s a real bodice-ripper of a chamber opus. Hot cocoa will hardly be required.