On a trip to Czechoslovakia in 1991 Greg Sarchet made an unexpected discovery: much of the live music in cafes, taverns, and restaurants was performed by a combo of two violins and a double bass. As a bassist, he’s always on the lookout for pieces that spotlight his instrument, and on subsequent visits to archives in Europe he found lots of sheet music for such trios. The grouping, which he traced back to early Baroque sonatas, was popular for social occasions in villages because it was usually easy to find three proficient string players. And with the violins playing the melody and the bass adding harmony and a beat, it was ideal for dances, from the courtly minuet to the folk landler and later to the waltz, which is loosely derived from the landler. Three years ago, as a tribute to the waltz and to Vienna, where it was the rage in the 1880s, Sarchet formed the Vienna Waltz Ensemble, whose other members are violinists Clara Lindner and Carl Johnston. Lindner, who freelances with the Chicago Opera Theater and the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, teaches at Columbia College, as does Sarchet, a longtime player with the Lyric Opera orchestra; Johnston plays with the Chicago Chamber Orchestra and teaches at DePaul University. They have released two CDs (on Denwa Classical) of waltzes and other European dance tunes from the past three centuries. Most of this repertoire is deceptively simple in rhythm and technique, but these musicians don’t condescend. They caress a phrase, add a lyrical lilt, linger over a sentiment without milking it–demonstrating that they grasp the music’s essence as delectable entertainment. Still, one can only take so much three-quarter time in a two-hour program. In this weekend’s sampler Sarchet has included Hungarian and German dances, polkas, and minuets to illustrate the evolution of the waltz, and he has commissioned from Gustavo Leone (another Columbia colleague) a duet and a gigue that use current idioms. Some of the numbers will feature dancers Alex Aldape, Michele Mazur, Heather Fiene, and Liz Zamora. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, Columbia College Concert Hall, 1014 S. Michigan; 312-344-6179. Ted Shen

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