The Rush Hour Concert Series, hosted by the International Music Foundation, continues their weekly free summer concert streams on Tuesdays, concluding Sep. 22. This past week they featured a talented and exciting trio from Nexus Chamber Music.
Violinists Brian Hong and Rannveig Marta Sarc and cellist Alexander Hersh joined forces for a marvelous concert of music spanning several centuries in the latest Rush Hour offering. They opened with the Trio Sonata, Op. 16, No. 1 by Isabella Leonarda (1620–1704). She is noteworthy not only for being a female composer at a time when that was most unusual, but she had another career, embarked upon at age 16, that was entirely religious. She was a nun and spent her adult life at the Collegio di Sant’Orsola, a convent where she eventually served as Mother Superior. She had not only religious and musical talents, she knew how to use her music in support of the convent: she would dedicate all of her compositions to the Virgin Mary as well as a living person; the latter were chosen from people Leonarda hoped would donate funds to Sant’Orsola.
This sample of her compositional style is invigorating and engaging and the trio was confident and commanding in their performance. Each of the five movements is a relatively brief, small capsule of musical energy that fits together into a satisfying and purposeful whole. The trio treated each vignette differently, carefully and clearly drawing the different moods and energy. Hong and Sarac worked beautifully together, meshing the violin sound expertly. Hersh had deep, rich sound that offered a solid anchor. The penultimate movement for solo violin saw Hong offer a beautiful interpretation: gentle and contemplative with delicate ornaments and a gloriously understated momentum.
Giovanni Battista Viotti’s (1755–1824) String Trio in G Major of 1808 is an obscure work the Nexus musicians only recently discovered. Sarc was the lead violin, and offered sweet sound and easy rapid runs. The trio had bright sound and their dynamic changes were charming. The expressive middle movement, at times mournful, featured long beautiful phrases from all the players. The work concluded with an exciting “Presto,” both fleet and light, infused with both drama and humor, and was rendered with the theatrical flair the piece deserved.
The concert concluded with Hong and Hersh taking on the Duo for Violin and Cello by Zoltán Kodály. The composer, one of the last century’s great ethnomusicologists, employed Magyar folk idioms, peasant dances, and children’s songs. Hong and Hersh took us on a splendid journey of a rustic countryside filled with various folk characters. Craggy melodies, often with abrasive harmonies, were plumbed to their depths as the musicians dug into the music. Kodály’s unusual meanderings were given full life and the pair turned the performance into a marvelous story full of unexpected but delightful developments.
Robbie Ellis hosted the streamed broadcast, with his usual high energy and exaggerated diction and he elicited interesting observations about the music from the musicians between pieces. At the end of the performance he announced that the music was recorded at PianoForte (in the South Loop), yet it was clear that the trio was in a church. (It looked to me like it could have been St. James Cathedral, where Rush Hour Concerts took place before a live audience in the years before the coronavirus pandemic.)
To stream the final Rush Hour Concerts or to view those which have already been archived, visit IMFChicago.org.