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Smithsonian Chamber Players, Reynolds Center

Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, photo courtesy of Heather Goss, DCistOn Sunday, the new auditorium at the Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture hosted the inaugural concert of the Smithsonian Chamber Players. The space still has that new hall smell, refinished in a blonde-wood louver style that reminded me of the new hall at Strathmore. The sound is good but not spectacular. I sat in the center towards the front, and the acoustic seemed slightly muted, missing some of the liveness that brings you close to the instruments in chamber music. This concert was free (many of the performances on the museum's calendar for this new space are not), and an enthusiastic crowd — excited enough to clap between movements — filled nearly all the seats.

An ad hoc combination of piano trio offered a short program without intermission. The best performance came from pianist Audrey Andrist, whose facility with rapid passagework was, as always, impressive. Her part was generally the most demanding, as it often is in the piano trio repertoire. She played on a newly rebuilt 1940 Steinway grand piano from the Smithsonian collection. Andrist is a gifted, intelligent player, with the chops to tackle the most difficult new compositions in her performances with Contemporary Music Forum and other groups. She stood out in the opening Presto, from Haydn's C major trio (Hob. XV:27), a piece that is mostly a showcase for the pianist. She also answered the considerable demands of the final work, Mendelssohn's D minor trio (op. 49), where she brought a light, airy grace to the fleet keyboard part. She may not have as much power in her arms as one could want, but she has the chops.

Other Reviews:

Gail Wein, Smithsonian Chamber Players (Washington Post, August 29)
Her husband, violinist James Stern, and the director of the SCP, cellist Kenneth Slowik, played on their own 18th-century instruments: as Slowik put it at the opening of the concert, instruments that were "new when the music was new." Stern played well, with a few scratchy sounds that we can probably attribute to the instrument. The sound of the cello was shallow, and there were problems of intonation and accuracy, especially in challenging sections. The opening anacrusis of the Allegro ma non troppo section of the first movement of the middle work, Beethoven's E-flat major trio (op. 70, no. 2), was jarringly out of tune. All in all, it was a nice reintroduction to the delights of concert life that await us this fall in Washington.

The next concert in the Reynolds Center auditorium will feature the 21st Century Consort (Saturday, October 21, 5 pm). That one is not free.

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