Classical Music

Suzuki & Friends Chamber Series

Indiana History Center

Tuesday, April 5

Ani Aznavoorian, 26 and Chicago born, added considerable luster to the already prestigious Suzuki and Friends last Tuesday as their guest cellist. Though her Armenian heritage recalls Sergey Khachatryan, the 2002 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis silver medalist, Aznavoorian is, in fact, married to 1994 IVCI silver medalist Stefan Milenkovich, the pair often touring together. But Aznavoorian didn't need her husband to prove her ability as the most promising young cellist to appear here since Canadian Shauna Rolston soloed with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra several years ago. Ani Aznavoorian was Suzuki and Friends' guest cellist last week.

The Suzukis' three-work program demonstrated the composer's unstated adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Aznavoorian joined pianist and series co-founder Zeyda Ruga Suzuki to open with Beethoven's Twelve Variations on "Ein M├Ądchen oder Weibchen" from Mozart's The Magic Flute for Cello and Piano, Op. 66. Beethoven takes Papageno's second-act song with tinkling bells and completely makes it his own display vehicle for cello and piano. Aznavoorian and Suzuki trade off against each other, the former supplying as near-perfect a cello tone as one can imagine and the latter pearls of sparkling but delicately shaded pianism. It was the best duo performance I've heard all season.

Perhaps less intentional imitation occurs in the next selection, Schumann's quite-worthy-but-seldom-performed Quartet in E-flat for Piano and Strings, Op. 47. The first four chords of the opening movement's principal motif exactly duplicate those of the world famous chorale theme from Sibelius' Finlandia (1899). Trouble is, Schumann wrote his piece in 1842, 57 years earlier. As they say: Who stole from whom? Still, Schumann's fourth movement uses the famous "Jupiter" progression from the Finale of Mozart's Symphony No. 41; in this case the Mozart came first.

Nonetheless, these borrowings and "anticipations," while perhaps interesting to notice, don't matter in the long haul: Schumann makes all his materials his own. And violinist Hidetaro Suzuki, violist Beverly Scott, cellist Aznavoorian and pianist Zeyda Suzuki gave us a splendid reading. Though the ensemble blend was near perfect, one could still notice Aznavoorian's exceptional cello playing, especially in the nimble, Mendelssohnian Scherzo movement, where she displayed prominent solo work. We should hear this quartet more often; it stands quite well with the composer's more popular Piano Quintet, also in E-flat, also from 1842.

The Suzukis closed their next-to-last program with yet another popular piano quintet, Dvorak's in A, Op. 81, among his most engaging chamber works. Violinist Jennifer Greenlee adds her talents to the Schumann complement to bring off a sterling performance of this melodic, somewhat long-winded work. Its second movement, a dumka (a Bohemian ballad abruptly alternating between sad and exuberant), carries a theme which the composer borrowed from a Ukrainian folk source. It then reappeared in the 20th century as the ballad "Nature Boy" from Moulin Rouge.

Then, in the ensuing Scherzo movement, we hear Dvorak in his most Schubertian vein, including a quote from the slow movement of the latter's B-flat Piano Trio, writing quite flattering to both composers and concluding the evening's borrowings. Our performers, however, concluded with Dvorak's rousing Finale, delivering energy, excellent ensemble work and a polish Aznavoorian beautifully underscored.

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