“The Firebird,” “Petrushka,” “The Rite of Spring.” It’s been just over a century ago since that remarkable trilogy of masterpieces kick-started Igor Stravinsky’s career. They remain his most frequently performed pieces.
Their popularity, however, relegates too much of his other music to the shadows — including his little-known songs and chamber music, some of which the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota gave a rare hearing on Sunday.
For lovers of Stravinsky’s music, it was an afternoon of unadulterated pleasure.
Twin Cities soprano Maria Jette, bubbling with her customary vivacity, played a major role. She sang two sets of Stravinsky’s songs, both populated by wildlife. Goats, cats, roosters, geese and cockroaches inhabited the “Three Stories for Children,” their scuttling activities mirrored by Jette’s yelping vocal lines and the skittering accompaniments of pianist Timothy Lovelace. Jette also served as narrator in the suite from “The Soldier’s Tale,” a music-theater piece about a military man who trades his violin to the devil in exchange for knowledge about the future.
Violinist Ariana Kim dug zestily into the music’s rustic rhythms, punchily abetted by Lovelace and Minnesota Orchestra principal clarinet Gabriel Campos Zamora.
Another Minnesota Orchestra principal, cellist Anthony Ross, stepped up as soloist in the “Suite Italienne” for cello and piano. His approach was unapologetically bold and vigorous, bracingly alive to the music’s strutting neoclassical features.
The concert also included a selection of quieter, more introverted music in memory of Chamber Music Society patron Ed Volker, who owned Minneapolis’ House of Note violin shop for 30-plus years. Leading the tribute pieces was “Elegy,” a short, mournful work for solo violin by Stravinsky, played by artistic director Young-Nam Kim. Kim followed it with a heartfelt Sarabande by J.S. Bach and a touching violin duet version of “Amazing Grace” (played with his daughter Ariana).
Pulling together the recital’s various strands was “earthbird,” a new work by Twin Cities composer Steve Heitzeg featuring all six performers. In an affectionate genuflection to Stravinsky, “earthbird” bristled with verve and spikiness, and incorporated Jette’s ripely lyrical vocal interjections, soaring wordlessly over the instrumental textures.
It put a fitting seal on a recital that consistently shed fresh light on a relatively small yet absorbing part of Stravinsky’s endlessly fascinating musical output.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.