Review: ‘All About Dvořák’ at National Chamber Ensemble by Ross Heath

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Czech out the National Chamber Ensemble

The wonderful National Chamber Ensemble closed its ninth season tonight with a Mother’s Day concert spotlighting the music of the renowned Czech composer, Antonin Dvořák. Under the leadership of founding Artistic Director Leonid Sushansky, the group of chamber musicians has solidly established itself as one of the top music ensembles in the region.

National Chamber Ensemble in performance. Photo by Robert Jansen.

National Chamber Ensemble in performance. Photo by Robert Jansen.

Allison Silberberg, the Mayor of Alexandria, introduced the concert, saying how lucky we in the DC metropolitan area are to have the extraordinary talents of this group through violinist and Artistic Director Leo Sushansky’s artistic vision. The National Chamber Ensemble is indeed a treasure, presenting polished renditions of beloved music standards, mixed in with “Oh, Wow!” works of lesser known composers. Beyond that, the National Chamber Ensemble’s concerts allow the audience to interact with the performers after the show, and pieces are often preceded with a concise educational summary of the significance of the piece about to be played, and the musicians’ jokes make for a cheerful evening. But it is the artists’ high level of musicianship that make this group great.

The program began with the Sonatina in G Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 100, parts of which Dvořák had composed on the sleeve of his shirt in Minnesota. Thankfully, Dvořák was able to transcribe the bits of composition to paper before washing the shirt! The violin and piano engaged in a delightful, lively, and at times lyrical conversation. The communication between violinist Leo Sushansky and pianist Carlos César Rodriguez carried us away. The second movement of the Romantic piece, in the style of an African American spiritual, evoked snowdrops sprinkling on a window. Dvořák’s African American influence is speculated about in this paper.

The Terzetto, Op.74, for two violins and viola, a lesser known Dvořák work, was comically introduced by violinist Jorge Orozco as a ‘cello-less string quartet.’ The singing first movement was particularly lovely, and the following movement evoked being physically moved forward, as if in a stagecoach through the countryside moving sometimes swiftly and sometimes slowly.

Cellist, Sean Neidlinger. Photo by Robert Jansen.

Cellist, Sean Neidlinger. Photo by Robert Jansen.

An instrumental quintet version of Songs My Mother Taught Me was accompanied by a slideshow of projected photos of the ensemble’s members with their mothers or children, in recognition of Mother’s Day. The photos made for a personal and touching reminder of all the artists and guest hosts who have performed with NCE over the past nine seasons.

The concert culminated with the Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81.  This seamless work gave each performing musician moments to shine. Cellist Sean Neidlinger’s opening solo was particularly beautiful. Uri Wassertzug, the violist in the ensemble, said the group had fun experimenting with different ways in which to present the movements, for example changing the tempo certain sections were played. How exciting this exploration must have been. The audience couldn’t help but break out and clap after the first movement.

The National Chamber Ensemble has presented a broad variety of programs over the past nine seasons. The 2016-17 season includes music from Vienna, French music for Valentine’s Day, The Four Seasons of Vivaldi and Piazolla, and mixed in with these will be some rare gems

Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.

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All About Dvořák played on Saturday, April 7, 2016 at The National Chamber Ensemble performing at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre -1611 North Kent Street, in Arlington, VA. Early birds can buy discounted 2016-17 season subscription tickets for all five concerts for $128 if purchased by September 17th on their website.

Ross Heath.

Ross Heath.

Ross Heath, a chamber music enthusiast, is a network engineer for Northrop Grumman and the founding artistic director of Arcturus Theater Company, where he has directed works by John Cage, August Strindberg, Samuel Beckett, Lisa Loomer, and others.

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