By MICHAEL CAMERON
Chicago institutions promoted Osvaldo Golijov for at least a few years before his appointment as CSO composer-in-residence in 2006, and in this short time we have been treated to a substantial chunk of his output. The centerpiece of the Rembrandt Chamber Players concert Sunday was a rare local performance of his most substantial chamber work (and one of his most gripping in any genre), “The Prayers and Dreams of Isaac the Blind” from 1994.
Scored for string quartet and clarinet, this haunting concoction is standard Golijov fare: a stew of klezmer tunes and Jewish prayers (most notably, “Our Father, Our King”), blended in an epic five-movement structure, bound with drones, propulsive riffs and a keen grasp of string tone and texture.
Isaac the Blind was a 12th Century Kabbalist rabbi from Provence who asserted that the universe owes its identity to combinations of the Hebrew alphabet. This is a poignant look at every conceivable response to loss, from resignation to mourning to visceral rage toward the deity.
The challenge for the quintet was the need to summon every ounce of classical chops while eliciting the grit of street musicians.
Violinists Robert Hanford and Kathleen Brauer, violist Keith Conant, cellist Barbara Haffner (all from the Lyric Opera Orchestra) and clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom (CSO) nailed it, balancing subtle colors one moment and pulsating drive the next.
The RCP managed an abrupt about-face with an all-Schubert second half, including the unrelentingly cheery “Trout” quintet for piano and four strings. Pianist Jeannie Yu, Hanford, Conant, Haffner and bassist Collins Trier could have walked through this chestnut blindfolded, but they instead coaxed a breezy lyricism that cheered their grateful if modestly sized audience at Evanston’s Music Institute of Chicago.
Positive notices of student ensembles are usually tempered by age-related caveats.
None are needed in describing the remarkably polished and sophisticated account of the first movement (Allegro non troppo) of Schubert’s “Rosamunde” Quartet by the Ridere Quartet.