The Cottonwood international chamber music festival, made possible by a generous grant from Claire Matthews, and administered by FHSU and the Hays Symphony Orchestra, culminated in a brilliant concert the night of Jan. 27. FHSU faculty members Benjamin Cline, cello; Irena Ravitskaya, piano; and Shokhrukh Sadikov, viola, welcomed internationally known guest artists to join them in performing music by Edward Elgar and Arnold Schoenberg.

Guest artist Veronique Mathieu, violin, has performed and taught here, in Canada, South Africa and South America and is now a faculty member at KU. Evgeny Zvonnikov, a graduate of St. Petersburg State Conservatory in Russia, has won international competitions, including the 2012 FHSU Young Artist Competition, and now performs and teaches at West Texas A&M. Rudolf Haken, viola, is well-known on four continents for his compositions and performances with extended-range violas. Haken teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and also serves as director of the university’s Hip Hop Collective. Having won a number of competitions here and in his native Uzbekistan, cellist Sunnat Ibragimov is a graduate student at the University of Southern California.

Elgar’s “Serenade for Strings,” opus 20 (1892) began the concert. This is an early work, pleasant and easy to listen to, but without much character. The artists, joined by the student musicians of the FHSU Sinfonietta, helped it out with a spirited reading, to everyone’s delight.

In contrast, Schoenberg’s early composition “Verklaerte Nacht,” opus 4, for string sextet (1899) “Transfigured Night,” whose musical patterns reflect a poem of the same title by Richard Dehmel, has character and then some. In an earlier essay, I called it “an icon of post-Wagnerian Romanticism,” which it is, but it also is quite a bit more. In a program note, music critic Paul Schiavo suggests the audience should listen for “utterly surprising harmonies.” Later, in conversation with Cline and Sadikov, I learned the mature Schoenberg’s apparent break with 19th century music was not a break at all, but a natural development from many of the ideas contained in “Verklaerte Nacht.”

The voices of the string sextet, performing separately and together, brought out those “utterly surprising harmonies” in emotionally tense passages, and also the less surprising, but breathtakingly beautiful passages (think Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”) reflecting love and tenderness.

A late work by Elgar, the “Piano Quintet in A minor,” opus 84 (1918) concluded the program. This is a rather strange composition that, in the words of music critic Kai Christiansen, leaves “a complex but curiously singular impression.” Written entirely in post-Romantic style, its first movement is dark and threatening. The second has some eerie moments, but is essentially tranquil, showcasing the viola, piano and cello. The third movement reprises melodies from the first two, and ends in a dance. The musicians again performed thrillingly, and thoroughly deserved the lengthy standing ovation they received.

Following the concert, the happy audience and the musicians mingled for quite awhile, enjoying refreshments from Cathy’s Breads.

Don’t miss the HSO Valentine’s Concert at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10 in Beach/Schmidt, featuring Brad Dawson conducting and performing some jazz hits and Shah Sadikov conducting Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

Ruth Firestone is a frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.