Castleton Chamber Players’ stellar launch of the 2014 festival

By Mike Ashenfelder

At the intimate Castleton Theater, tucked into a flowering rural hillside, violinist Eric Silberger, cellist Daniel Lelchuk and pianist Bradley Moore performed three contrasting chamber music pieces and demonstrated not only mastery of their instruments but how eye contact, body language, attitude and cues can elevate the music to a higher realm of art. They are proof that one of the great pleasures of live performance is watching musicians interact.

Silberger and Lelchuk, founding members of the Castleton Chamber Players and performers-in-residence at the Festival, opened the concert with Johan Halvorsen’s “Passacaglia in G Minor on a Theme by George Frideric Handel.”

Silberger is a physically expressive violinist and his motions and facial expressions enhanced each variation. At times he appeared playful and mischievous, at times intense and passionate. Lelchuk, by contrast, is physically reserved, with the emotion and expression concentrated in his hands. Nevertheless, their performance styles complemented each other and vividly colored the character of each new variation of the theme.

The second piece on the bill was Ravel’s “Sonata for Violin and Cello.” Ravel finished the composition shortly after the death of his friend, Claude Debussy, and dedicated it to him. In the spirit of Debussy’s practice of “depouillement,” minimizing the musical elements, Ravel reduced the texture of the music to its essence and stripped away the harmony. The resulting sonata is four movements of intertwining, independent lines that snake through a shifting tonality. The piece demands concentration from an audience, as it certainly must for the performers.

The second movement, Très vif, is filled with melodrama. Silberger and Lelchuk were fixed in the swelling dynamics and the pizzicato passages, watching each other’s faces intently as they barreled through it, ending the movement with a “so there” flourish at each other.

The third movement, Lent, is delicate, like tendrils of wafting smoke, and the little theater was so still during the softer passages you could hear the whisper of the violin bow hair across the strings. Finally, the galloping pulse of the fourth movement — sprinkled with staccato and spiccato flourishes — propelled the music to its close.

Pianist Bradley Moore, who conducted Castleton’s “Madama Butterfly” on Saturday night, joined Silberger and Lelchuk for Anton Arensky’s “Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32.” Moore is an acclaimed recital partner — having performed with musicians such as Renee Fleming, Placido Domingo, Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell — and his vigilant accompaniment and nuanced leadership was evident.

The piano trio is a Romantic piece marked by a haunting theme in the first movement, Allegro moderato. Lelchuk was limber by now and, with Moore anchoring the trio, the three musicians swayed as one unit, passing the theme among them. Moore’s mastery and fluid style was especially apparent in the rippling piano lines of the second movement, Scherzo — Allegro molto. Lelchuk poured out sentiment. All three musicians locked eyes and dug in during the interplay. At times, Moore leaned way out to the right of his keyboard to cue and support Silberger and Lelchuk in turn.

By the third movement, Elegia — adagio, the performers were linked in graceful dance, watching each other, smiling, serving up the same dynamics with the same degree of feeling. No more, no less. In the fourth movement, Finale – Allegro non troppo, the piece glides to a close with a restatement of the opening theme, like a melancholy memory.

The Castleton Festival’s mission is to help train musicians, “the future stars of the opera and concert worlds,” and bring out the best musicianship in each and every one. This Sunday (July 6) the Castleton Chamber Players present the “Martinu Duo #2 for Violin and Cello,” “Talia String Quartet Obsession” and the “Schubert Trout Quintet.” On Saturday, July 19, they present the “Gideon Klein Duo for Violin and Cello,” “Dvorak American String Quartet” and the “Brahms G minor Piano Quartet.” Tickets are available at castletonfestival.org or call 866-974-0767.

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