The changing face of chamber music

Review: The Walden Chamber Players perform works that unite odd instrument combinations.

It’s not very often that music from the composer who wrote the soundtrack to “The Shining” is heard alongside a Brahms trio, but when the ensemble is as diverse as the Walden Chamber Players , the combination starts to make sense.  Out of the 12 artists that comprise the Walden Chamber Players, six performed Saturday night at Lincoln Middle School as part of the Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music’s 61st season.

The Boston-based ensemble is recognized for its eclectic blend of instruments, branching out from the standard string quartet to include piano, bass, clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, the list goes on.  The group’s diversity allows for an equally eclectic choice of repertoire, and endless possibilities of instrument pairings. 

The concert last night was no exception with the first half showcasing Schubert’s Adagio and Rondo Concertante in F major for Piano and String Trio, D. 487 followed by Brahms’ warmhearted Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 114.  The musicians performed with a beautiful supple sound although the deeper voices, mainly the viola and cello, were often lost as they competed with the piano in their lower registers.  The imbalance was largely due to the hall and caused the Schubert piece to sound more like a sonata for piano and violin.  But ignoring the instinct to fight to be heard, the lower registers maintained their soothing sound quality thereby maintaining the integrity of the piece.

Walden Chamber Players

The second half of the concert required an open mind from the audience, especially after listening to such well-known Romantic composers.  Violist and Artistic Director of the ensemble, Christof Huebner, introduced the piece by Krzysztov Penderecki by declaring that most of the audience was already familiar with the composer’s music, even if they didn’t know him by name.  Penderecki, a contemporary composer who in his early works had experimented with the avant garde and is now composing within the post-Romantic tradition, is recognized for scoring the soundtracks to “The Shining” and “Shutter Island.”

The piece chosen by the Walden Chamber Players for Saturday’s performance, Quartet for Clarinet and String Trio, was from Penderecki’s post-Romantic vein.  The quartet began with an eerie solo from the clarinet and continued with piercing sustained notes from the violin in its highest octaves along with bracing motifs as the piece decayed to a close.  It was the kind of piece where the audience doesn’t know when to applaud until the performers stand and take a bow, but the Quartet was well received.

The final piece on the program included all the instruments from the previous pieces with the addition of French horn player, Clark Matthews.  Sextet in C major for Horn, Clarinet, Strings and Piano, Op. 37 was composed by Ernö Dohnányi, a contemporary of Bártok and Kodály.  In his time Dohnányi’s music was more popular than either Bártok or Kodály, but today’s audience has grown to favor the Hungarian folk dances so prevalent in Bártok’s compositions that Dohnányi’s works are often overlooked.  The piece in this program had a taste of those folk traditions as well as sweet duets between the violin and viola in the fourth movement.

It was an ambitious program for the Walden Chamber Players, especially for cellist Ashima Scripp who performed in every one of these pieces.  The concert presented an amalgamation of the familiar and the obscure, both in its music and the instruments that were played.

Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music presents its third concert of the season on Dec. 4 with the Aulos Ensemble.  See their website for more details.

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