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Kennedy Center Chamber Players

Kennedy Center Chamber PlayersMozart again with the NSO’s Kennedy Center Chamber Players at the Terrace Theater – but unlike at the last concert, it came in moderate dosage last Sunday. And the C major Trio, K. 548, is a work I’d hear any day and gladly… something I cannot claim about the brasstardized Don Giovanni that was on offer the last time. Golden delicious were the two Allegro movements and the Andante cantabile they sandwich in the hands of the performers Lambert Orkis (Speech!), concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef, and principal cellist David Hardy.

It made more sense for Mr. Orkis to explain the strange sound world of George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) which might otherwise have turned the Mozart and Franck-expecting audience more off than on. Orkis, Hardy, and principle flutist Toshiko Kohno dove into the meticulous score, which includes light effects and usually demands the players be masked. (Orkis, a friend of Crumb’s, got a waiver from the composer on that because he and fellow spectacle-wearing Hardy would look all-too silly with masks.) The work was not sufficient to convert me to Crumb on the spot but enough to make me interested. The performance difficult to judge for virgin ears – although I have my doubts that the element where the flutist sings into the flute is supposed to be 95% percent voice and only five percent flute, as it turned out to be in parts of Ms. Kohno’s performance. The Tristan & Isolde allusions in the work, sadly, escaped me. Uncertain of when the piece was over, the audience met it with part polite and part rambunctious applause.

Other Reviews:

Joe Banno, At Kennedy Center, A Whale Of a Recital (Washington Post, November 15)
The Franck Quintet in F Minor for Piano and Strings, premiered in 1880 with Saint-Säens at the piano, followed after the intermission. The torn and anguished first movement (Molto moderato, quasi lento), a conversation between piano and string quartet (Mlle. Bar-Josef 1st violin, principal second violinist Marissa Regni, principal violist Daniel Foster, Hardy, and Orkis) was only more haunting for the violin-avoiding beauty and opting for expression and an unsettling pitch, instead.

The Kennedy Center Chamber Players Series is not only a wonderful addition to the local concert scene, which has no dearth of good chamber music performances, but also allows for the audience to get to know (musically, at least) the players of the NSO better. That four busy principal string players had the desire or will to learn the Franck quintet – a bear of a work – for example, goes some way in undoing the cynical suggestion that most of the NSO’s musicians don’t actually like music. (Then again, the principals’ motivation was never questioned.) With a mix of old and new music well played, it was a lovely concert, indeed.