"Wonderful", was my reaction as the first movement of Brahms´ First Sextet ended. And after the final chord of Tchaikovsky´s Sextet "Souvenir de Florence" sounded out, an amazed "wonderful throughout" was my feeling. For I had heard what will remain as an occasion worthy of grateful remembrance.
It was last Saturday at 7,30 pm at the lovely Museo de Arte Decorativo. An immense queue tried to get in but many couldn´t make it; the concert was free and it had a banner name much admired here: violinist Nicolás Chumachenco. The session was organised by the Dirección Nacional de Gestión y Programación of the Culture Ministry.
Those of us who went last year to several concerts at the Museum (Saturday after Saturday) knew that the programming quality of the cycle had been high and hoped that this project would continue this year. I learned about this concert just three days before it occurred and I changed my plans to be able to attend, for Chumachenco has for decades been a guarantee of musicianship. The result was even better than my expectations.
The lean hand programme had no biographies, so I decided to Google and I reaped a fine harvest that explained what had happened, if you crisscrossed the information. I was intrigued by a fact: four players were the nucleus and three were invited, so this was an ad-hoc situation that implied a relationship between the four principals: and it was so.
The four: Chumachenco; Stanimir Todorov and Marcelo Montes, celli; and Rolando Prusak, viola. Both Nicolás and his sister Ana were born in Poland of Ukrainian parents, but came to Argentina at an early age and studied with Ljerko Spiller. Nicolás went on to study with two luminaries: Jascha Heifetz in California, Efrem Zimbalist at Philadelphia´s Curtis Institute; and he afterwards won the Queen Elizabeth Competition (Belgium). He led the Zurich Quartet for many years, and currently he is the Director of the Orquesta de Cámara Reina Sofía de Madrid and professor at Freiburg (Germany). He is now almost 72.
Todorov is Bulgarian, born at Sophia in 1967. His career connected him with Gstaad (Switzerland) where he studied at the International Menuhin Music Academy, and then at the Paris Conservatory. He went on to be first desk at various orchestras: Danish National Radio, Suisse Romande, Montecarlo Philharmonic. He has been living in Argentina during the last decade and is a great player.
Montes is young and Chilean, but he studied in Freiburg (connection with Chumachenco) and has worked with such aces as Walevska, Gabetta and Meneses. He is now first desk of the Córdoba Symphony.
Rolando Prusak also studied with Spiller and at Gstaad (with Menuhin, Lysy and Vegh); and with Ana Chumachenco at Munich and Nicolás at Freiburg! He held a post at Aragón and is now back in Argentina.
And now the invited players: Sebastián Prusak (violin) is Rolando´s son and has played both classic (at the National Symphony) and tango (now at the Orquesta Filiberto). Pablo Sangiorgio is a gifted violinist of the Camerata Bariloche. And Juan Castellanos (viola) is from Córdoba and at the present time a member of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. The latter two are quite young.
With this information you see why this sextet jelled and seemed a seasoned stable group playing at its best. But obviously apart from the individual professionalism there was a guiding hand of deep knowledge and taste: Nicolás Chumachenco returned after eight years to give seminars and concerts at Buenos Aires and Córdoba and showed that he is a past master of chamber music. Also, he chose a blinding masterpiece, for that's what Brahms' early First Sextet is, and Tchaikovsky's lighter but beautiful and charming Sextet, quite Russian in character (the reference to Florence is simply because he wrote part of it there).
I was astonished by the homogeneity and mutual ensemble; in both works there´s constant give-and-take and all six instruments are active almost throughout; the cues were always taken at the precise moment, all phrased as one. Todorov was first cellist in Brahms but Montes took over in Tchaikovsky: the quality remained impeccable. Sangiorgio was second violin in Brahms, Sebastián Prusak in Tchaikovsky, and again the ensemble was beyond reproach.
What a way to start the chamber music year. Long life to these Saturday concerts!
For Buenos Aires Herald