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June Chamber Festival II

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

The annual June Chamber Festival at the Kreeger Museum comes to its conclusion this week. We managed to get there for the second of the three concerts, on Tuesday evening, and while the results from the American Chamber Players have improved from last year, the impression remains that the main draw of these concerts is the unusual repertoire and the beauty of the venue. Cellist Stephen Balderston had to withdraw from this year's concerts, following a shoulder surgery, but he was replaced quite ably by Israeli-born cellist Inbal Segev.

The evening opened with Mozart's Duo in G Major for violin and viola, K. 423, a piece recently noted in a disc of duo sonatas by Rachel Podger and Jane Rogers. It is a pleasing piece under most circumstances, only solo passages did reveal some infelicities in both soloists. It was paired with even less substantial fare, Kuhlau's Trio in G Major, op. 119, a piece interesting to hear if less interesting to hear again. The problem in this performance came from the fact that the work was created for two flutes and piano, requiring Segev to curtail her sound quite severely in this arrangement for flute, cello, and piano (by Nicholas Louis, as it turns out), so as not to overwhelm the generally fine playing of flutist Sara Stern. It worked in most places, but in others the two instruments were unbalanced. Pianist Anna Stoytcheva continued to be the most musical player in the group, with just one minor slip, expertly recovered, in the Kuhlau.

Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, American Chamber Players’ soothing program comes with a punch (Washington Post, June 11, 2012)

Charles T. Downey, June Chamber Festival at the Kreeger Museum (Washington Post, June 12, 2011)
The second half yielded far greater interest, beginning with an unusual trio for flute, viola, and cello by Albert Roussel (op. 40). The unexpected combination of instruments is outpaced by the work's musical eccentricities, with moods ranging from happy-go-lucky (the sunny first theme) to sultry (the sensuous second movement) and obsessive, with some truly odd passages, like the squeaky harmonics in the last movement. The evening concluded with Bedřich Smetana's Piano Trio in G Minor, op. 15, composed in response to the death of his eldest daughter, Bedřiška, in 1855. (It was a decade of tragedy for the composer, as he lost two younger daughters and eventually his wife in the same period.) The first movement had considerable heft, with themes steeped in tragic sadness, airy sweetness (Smetana once remarked that the ethereal second theme was related to a tune beloved of his daughter), and heroic resolution, while neither of the other two movement seems quite able to decide if it is a slow movement or something else. After many interesting formal diversions, however, the work comes to a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion, with a heavy-handed funeral march and a surprise major resolution.

The June Chamber Festival at the Kreeger Museum concludes this Friday (June 15, 7:30 pm), when the American Chamber Players are joined by harpist Elizabeth Hainen, for music by Dvořák, Debussy, Donizetti, and Dohnányi.

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