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Kennedy Center Chamber Players Knock the Wind out of Poulenc

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F. Poulenc, Complete Chamber Music, v. 1

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F. Poulenc, Complete Chamber Music, v. 2

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F. Poulenc, Complete Chamber Music, v. 3

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F. Poulenc, Complete Chamber Music, v. 4

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F. Poulenc, Complete Chamber Music, v. 5
Last Sunday, the Kennedy Center Chamber Players – fortified with NSO colleagues – offered a wind- and brass-heavy program of Poulenc, Brahms, and Beethoven. Preceded by a speech of Orkis’s that was a kind trickle, never obtrusive: he hears “barnyard” in the Poulenc Sextet for Piano and Woodwind in C Major; I hear enraged poultry mucking about in the Allegro Vivace – perhaps there is something to Richard Freed’s observation of “a good deal of music-hall hanging about the sextet.” Poulenc’s music is, music-hall or barnyard, always an entertaining affair, rarely easy to categorize. Not only over the course of his career but even within individual pieces can you can find the spirit of Satie, then suddenly Martinů, perhaps Martin, then definitely Hindemith. But Poulenc is much more than a mere mélange – he turns out to be authentic in ever instance (something that I couldn’t claim for Martinů, although I love the latter’s music, too).

If you are unfamiliar with Poulenc you can best discover his musical palette (none of which should be intimmidating: Poulenc is among the most accessible of the important 20th century composers) with a selection from his chamber and orchestral works as well as his opera Dialogues des Carmélites. The chamber music has been well recorded by Naxos with none less than Alexandre Tharaud on the piano. The best orchestral overview (and in fact the best starting place for Poulenc newbies) is the Double-Decca disc of his concertos (piano, two pianos, harpsichord, organ) and the Gloria. The Dialogues has received a seminal recording from Dervaux in the 50s (EMI), and it took half a century to be challenged seriously with Nagano’s account on Virgin.

The players that tackled this fun – but by no means easy – work were Lambert Orkis (piano), Toshiko Kohno (flute), Rudolf Vrbsky (oboe), Loren Kitt (clarinet), Sue Heinemann (bassoon), and Martin Hackleman (horn), who combined for a very enjoyable performance.

It was a day of considerate, informative, and mercifully brief speeches – Hackleman’s before the Brahms horn trio superior especially on the third count. Mr. Orkis ‘accompanied’ nicely on the piano, Hackleman performed his part quite well, too, and Marissa Regni (the NSO’s principal second violin) got into the spirit before long, too… although sounding conspicuously like a viola for most of the trio. The work is lovely and pleased even in something short of an inspirational performance. The lugubrious slow movement didn’t help; it went beyond ‘funereal’ towards ‘boring’), but a lively finale made up for it.

Other Reviews:

Daniel "Il Divo" Ginsberg, Kennedy Center Chamber Players (Washington Post, February 6)
Beethoven’s Septet was extraordinarily popular in its time, and there is no reason to feel guilty about loving it in our days, either, even if Beethoven ‘disowned it’. Loren Kitt’s clarinet tone was a particular joy, but all the other six musicians -- Nurith Bar Josef (violin), Daniel Foster (viola), David Hardy (cello), Robert Oppelt (bass), Heinemann, and Hackleman -- contributed to its success. The Adagio cantabile alone justified the trip to the (all too chilly) Terrace Theater. That slow movement didn’t have the spontaneity of the other movements with their ‘near-sight-reading’ feel and was beautifully put together. The next Kennedy Center Chamber Players concert – a great way to get to know the NSO’s musicians better; great mostly since it usually doesn’t involve speeches – will take place on Sunday, March 19th, at 2PM.