ChamberFest Cleveland triumphs with haunting 'Voice of the Whale'

Music made the longest night of the year feel like the shortest.

While the sun Thursday took longer than ever to set, the solstice-night performances at ChamberFest Cleveland practically flew by, even as they created lasting musical memories.

They even made a little bit of history. Notable on several accounts, the concert in Mixon Hall at the Cleveland Institute of Music went down in the record books as a rare presentation of George Crumb's Voice of the Whale" in its fully staged form.

Complete with drawn curtains, blue lighting, and amplification, the performance of the 1971 masterpiece easily supported the program's title, serving beautifully as an example of a critical artistic "Turn in the Road."

As flutist Lorna McGhee sang hauntingly into her instrument and cellist Clive Greensmith slid fingers eerily up and down his, Roman Rabinovich sealed the deal, evoking chirpy whale song and the murky sounds of the deep with electronic effects on a grand piano.

The spell they cast was complete. Patrons were advised in their program books to listen for allusions to Strauss and demarcations between movements, but in reality the performance needed no explanation. It was a single, cohesive, and fully intuitive experience that paid moving tribute to the world's largest animals and possessed all the sighs, groans, chaos, and serenity of a real underwater conversation.

Similarly absorbing, and yet not so radical when considered in conjunction, was the Adagio from Berg's Chamber Concerto. Like Crumb's evocation of whales, Berg's arranged trio for violin, clarinet, and piano emerged as both fragmentary and unified, sensuous and shrill, a stimulating and ultimately mysterious musical moment.


Pianist Rabinovich gave an insightful overview, but again, words proved unnecessary. In performance, he, violinist Diana Cohen, and clarinetist Franklin Cohen saw right through the complexity and found all that was delicate, lyrical, and colorful in the music. Out of something potentially daunting or off-putting, they crafted something welcoming and scintillating.

How Dvorak's F-Minor Piano Trio, Op. 65 constituted a turn in the musical road wasn't exactly clear. Still, as rendered by Greensmith, pianist Zoltan Fejervari, and violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, the feisty work was both welcome and utterly consuming.

Like their colleagues on the program, the three artists in Dvorak were unfazed by technical demands. They'd clearly done their structural analysis and fully processed all the score's rhythmic, dynamic, and melodic potential.

Thus were they able to maximize the drama and pour their hearts into every lyrical opportunity. On every account, theirs was Dvorak at the highest level, and much like Thursday night as a whole, it was over too soon.