It’s alive!

Chamber music Rowland-Taylor Recital Hall, Sun., Feb. 20

Point one: Chamber music—especially string and keyboard music—is one of the achieved pinnacles of classical music. For the players, it is constantly alive—as they catch one another’s eyes, bounce bits of melody about, gather together for moments of exquisite beauty or whirlwinds of triumphant sound. There is no kind of music so personal, so thoroughly engaged.

Point two: There are half a dozen performer-musicians at Chico State and perhaps two hundred or so Chicoans who love this stuff and support it. But this is relatively small potatoes, and keeping chamber music alive sometimes seems a losing game. Orchestral music is dead in the schools, and there are almost no string players among the university’s thousands of students. With help from out-of-towners and Redding, the North State Symphony succeeds—albeit with severe constraints. And choral music does well (lots of choirs in Chico). But chamber music?

This said, the musicianship and dedication of truly superior local chamber players like clarinetist Russell Burnham and Pianist John Milbauer can be glorious to behold, as it was this past Sunday, when, accompanied by Katharine Knight, of Colorado’s DaVinci Quartet, they played three pieces at the Ruth Roland-Taylor Concert Hall.

In the opening Sonata for Piano and Cello by Schubert, Milbauer played with just the right intensity so that cellist Knight’s melodies (sometimes a stretch, as they were written for violin) were set off to the work’s best possible advantage.

Similarly, in Debussy’s First Sonata for Cello and Piano, with its mature splendor and restraint and its interweaving of melodic bits, the cello and piano interacted perfectly.

And in the closing Brahms Trio for Piano, Clarinet, and Cello, the addition of Burnham’s rich ability to match tone colors and interweave with Knight’s handsome cello lines brought an almost perfect chamber music program to its apotheosis. Keep it coming.