October 30, 2006

Chamber orchestra back in town and still stunning

First off, I want to thank the Charleston Chamber Music Society for bringing Chamber Orchestra Kremlin back to town. When they appeared here several years ago in the same venue, Christ Church United Methodist,

I remembered being overwhelmed by the precision in their music making.

I'm happy to report that on Sunday afternoon, it was deja vu.

Conductor Misha Rachlevsky is a real no-frills kind of guy. I suspect that any excessive arm waving or tap dancing takes place in rehearsal, and by the time this band hits the stage he and all the players are literally and figuratively on the same page.

Rachlevsky started out with Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky by Antonine Arensky. It was pretty much a silky smooth collection of style vignettes shaped by the theme itself. My favorite was the variation that began with the violin and violas playing in harmonics, barely touching the string so the tone is high above the fundamental tone, and actually sounded like a glass harmonica. Ben Franklin invented the thing and it consists of tuned china bowls that are set into a spinning motion and the player creates the sound by touching his rosin-covered finger to the rim.

Next on the bill was a work entitled Visions Fugitives by Sergei Prokofiev. Rudolf Barshai arranged the 16-section piece from a piano composition of 20 sections. The pieces were very short miniatures that gave voice to later works to come, and the listener could clearly hear sketches of Romeo and Juliet and others.

When the orchestra returned from intermission they played an arrangement of Johannes Brahms' String Sextet No.2 in G Major. It was a lovely work played well, and the crowd showed its appreciation by demanding two encores. The finale encore was an arrangement of the most played and sung tune in the world, "Happy Birthday." Humorous homage was paid to Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, and the tango king, Astor Piazzolla.

This chamber orchestra is still one of the tops in the world and we heard it right here, compliments of Charleston Chamber Music Society.

RICK JUSTICE, Music Critic