In peek at its new roster, Astral captivates

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Violinist Timothy Chooi playing with pianist Hugh Sung Wednesday night at the Perelman Theater

If you were looking for the individualists emerging in classical music, Astral Artists opened an easy view Wednesday night at the Perelman Theater. Astral usually sends its new crop of musicians on stage gradually throughout the season. It does so again this year, but also for the first time launched them all on a single concert. Taken as a statement of Astral’s worth in assisting top talent, the evening had impact.

It was a series of peeks. One concert meant to convey something meaningful about six instrumentalists plus a string quartet required programming just movements from pieces. When the Rolston String Quartet performed the last two movements of Beethoven’s String Quartet, Opus 59, No. 2, “Razumovsky,” it made you wonder what they would have revealed about themselves in the first two – but only because they were so good. Formed three years ago at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the group has both spirit and polish, plus a sophistication at odds with their baby faces. The third movement hinges on an ability to make the rhythm click into a groove while maintaining a certain looseness, and the Rolston mastered this balance beautifully.

Violinist Timothy Chooi was an audience favorite for the growing intensity he brought with pianist Hugh Sung to Vitali’s Chaconne in G Minor (and probably also for his near-dance physicality and ripping through some horse-hairs on his bow).

Violinist Katie Hyun’s repertoire - Heifetz’s arrangement of tunes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess - left a real impression of her abilities for another day.

Several others took a highly personal approach to works well known. Zhenni Li pushed toward tempo extremes in the "Allegro vivace" of Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 1, but with a big, gorgeous tone and a mesmerizing touch in the last few bars. Pianist Congcong Chai made Chopin’s Ballade No. 3 in A Flat Major all his own, with a crisp sound. The “Scarbo” movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit can be the undoing of many a pianist, but Natalia Kazaryan calmed its anxieties. A more unhinged approach is probably closer to the truth of this music, but there is no arguing that the young artist was saying what she wanted.

Great technique is a given today, but even on that sliding scale harpist Emily Levin was a standout. The new principal harpist of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra this season, Levin, in Grandjany's Rhapsodie pour la harpe, drew nuanced timbres and textures while making the mechanics of her instrument disappear.