ASC Chamber Players Huebner

ASC Chamber Players turn in stunner for opener
By Michael Huebner, The Birmingham News

If the Magic City Chamber Festival plays out anything like its inaugural concert, its future is assured.

Not only did the idea of a mid-summer musical soiree in heat-soaked Alabama resonate with a sold-out audience, the music-making Friday was top drawer – as good as you’ll find at any big-name mountain or seaside get-together.

True, the Reynolds-Kirschbaum Recital Hall at the Alys Stephens Center seats only 162, but cautious organizers of the fledgling festival wanted to start small. Perhaps too small.

The ASC Chamber Players, an ad hoc chamber group playing its first concert, played a thrilling concert, thanks in large part to pianist Yakov Kasman’s take-charge musicianship.

But his five collaborators turned in inspired performances as well. Together, they engulfed the tiny hall with sound in Brahms’ Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60.

Biting accents and broad, free-flowing phrases defined the opening movement, exaggerated at times but not excessively so. The Scherzo was a breathless romp, taken at a torrid pace, contrasting well with the lyricism in the Andante.

This was an intelligent reading of this quartet. These musicians understood the rhythmic pliability, momentum-building and ebbs and flows of this thickly scored work, and they executed well.

UAB faculty clarinetist Denise Gainey was front and center for Prokofiev’s folkish “Overture on Hebrew Themes,” offering charming, unforced solos in this breezy reading.

Shostakovich will be played at each of the festival’s three concerts, commemorating the composer’s 100th birthday. The Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67, is one of the finest examples of 20th century chamber music, and it was given its due.

A stark, empty landscape begins the piece, cellist Dennis Parker delivering the eerie harmonics. But the Shostakovich’s mood swings soon took hold, the dizzying fury of the second movement lapsing into a frolicsome spree. Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, whose solid musicianship came through consistently, was at her expressive best in the Largo.

The evening’s best playing came in the finale. Driven by Kasman’s gritty facial expressions and body movement, its wry humor and kineticism were communicated brilliantly and infectiously.