The term “chamber music” for many people means string quartet performance. But the Spokane Chamber Music Association – the parent organization of the Spokane String Quartet – brought pianist Duane Hulbert to The Met Sunday to show just how broad a range of music chamber music covers.
Hulbert leads the piano faculty of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. He brought with him an obviously well-earned reputation both as a soloist and ensemble player.
He had the first half of Sunday’s program to himself performing solo music by Bach and Glazunov, composers representing opposite ends of the spectrum of solo chamber music – music designed to be heard by fairly small audiences in intimate surroundings.
Hulbert opened the program with four chorale preludes by Bach.
Originally for organ, these chorale preludes were arranged for piano by Ferruccio Busoni, whose career spanned the last part of the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries.
Hulbert brought an organ-like sonority to his playing of these intricate works and brought clear definition to the hymn melodies on which they were based.
“Komm, Gott Schoepfer” (Come, God Creator) with its fanfare flourishes proved a festive opener to the group. And “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen” (Rejoice now, beloved Christians), with its exultant running passage work scurrying around the slow moving hymn tune in the piano’s tenor register made a dazzling close to the group.
My personal favorite was “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland” (Now Comes the Heathens Savior) with its beautifully ornamented melody floating over its slow moving but inexorable bass line. There were a few momentary memory slips, but Hulbert brought real depth to these works.
Hulbert followed the seriousness of Bach with the heady delights of a very different kind of “chamber” – the 19th-century salon with people waiting to be amused and entertained.
The entertainment the pianist clearly enjoyed representing was Alexander Glazunov whose piano music Hulbert has recorded for Bridge Records. Glazunov’s music under Hulbert’s fingers was tuneful and filled with the glittering brilliance salon audiences loved. And, from the enthusiasm of Sunday’s Met audience, people still love it.
The qualities Hulbert brings to Glazunov includes a variety of tone that ranged from the keyboard-sweeping brilliance of the Grand Valse de Concert with its strong hints of Johann Strauss to a kind of velvety singing for the second of Glazunov’s two Impromptus.
Following intermission, three members of the Spokane String Quartet – violinist Kelly Farris, violist Tana Bachman and cellist Helen Byrne – joined Hulbert for Schumann’s Piano Quartet, Op. 47.
What a treat to see Hulbert turn from the virtuoso soloist to the attentive, thoughtful ensemble player.
Particularly impressive was the headlong scherzo with its odd combination of fleet lightness and threatening darkness.
The slow movement had some of the afternoon’s most stunning melodic exchanges as the melody passed from cello to violin then to the viola with a web of decoration woven around it by the violin.
Sunday’s performance gave the audience a fine display of the range of chamber music, or rather “chamber musics.”
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