Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Sheila and OreoBy Sheila Abrams

Chamber music is sort of an insider thing among fans of classical music. Unfortunately, we rarely get the opportunity to hear it live. and it does not draw the audiences that come to symphonic or opera performances. More is the shame, because it is the most intimate form, offering an intense relationship between the listener and the composer. The musicians become the medium for that relationship.

During the week-long and varied Summer Festival put on between Aug. 3 and 10 by the Baroque Orchestra of NJ at two venues in Madison, a truly world-class chamber music performance took place. On the evening of Aug. 8, in the acoustically excellent sanctuary of Grace Church, five musicians came together to play Antonin Dvorak’s Piano Quintet #2. To use a probably inappropriate metaphor, they knocked it out of the park.

According to BONJ director Robert W. Butts, the group was brought together by BONJ’s concert master, Agnes Kwasniewska, a brilliant virtuoso who played first violin in the group. Ae-Kyong Yoon was second violin, Olga Terlitsky played viola and Lawrence Zoerning was the cellist. At the piano was Paul Ziegler, with a hats-off to John Pivarnik who did the unsung but heroic task of turning the pages for Ziegler.

We have had the good fortune over the years, of hearing some of the world’s most celebrated chamber groups, both live and recorded. This ensemble, on this particular evening, was as good as it gets.

The quintet is powerfully emotional, using Bohemian folk dance rhythms throughout the piece. The second movement is marked dumka, a slow form which Dvorak used in several other compositions. It is dark and pensive and classically Slavic.

Throughout the piece, in fact, the composer’s Slavic heritage shines through. The themes, however, are not folk tunes but original ones, resulting in a unique and passionate expression.

Each of the instruments has the opportunity to introduce or develop one or more themes. Dvorak, to me, has always seemed a particularly great composer of music for the cello. In this performance, cellist Lawrence Zoerning had many shining moments.

It was also a great treat to hear Paul Ziegler, known to the BONJ audience as a soloist and a composer, play this exquisite music in an ensemble. We tend to think that playing in a small ensemble—trio, quartet or quintet—must be particularly demanding for a musician. This quintet was performed with breathtaking precision and passion.

The Dvorak quintet was the central piece of the evening, which had begun with shorter pieces by Sammartini, Haydn and Berlioz, performed by a different group of musicians: flautists Margaret Walker and Laura Ferraro, cellist Nancy Connell and pianist John Pivarnik (with Paul Ziegler turning pages for him!)

The festival also included daily keyboard recitals and a cabaret night on Saturday and concluded with an all-opera concert on Sunday.