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Richardson Chamber Players Bring Touch Of Musical Boston to Princeton University

Nancy Plum

The Princeton University football team may have been in Philadelphia this weekend, but musically, Princeton paid tribute to Boston in the Sunday afternoon concert of the Richardson Chamber Players. In this 10th anniversary season of the ensemble, co-directors Michael Pratt and Nathan Randall have programmed a series of concerts focusing on different aspects of Americana. Boston has had a long connection to Princeton University, with the first concert of what is now the Princeton University Concerts by the Boston-based Kneisel Quartet. Sunday afternoon's performance in Richardson Auditorium paid tribute to the Quartet, with music from its repertory and guest performers.

Music of Arthur Foote was performed in the early Princeton University Concerts, with the composer participating as pianist. His piece for flute and string quartet, A Night Piece, featured flutist Jayn Rosenfeld, violinists Sunghae Anna Lim and Lisa Shihoten, violist Dov Scheindlin and cellist Susannah Chapman. This was a very melodic and appealing piece of music, with long languishing flute lines over undulating strings. The ensemble was well-coordinated in the ebb and flow of the music, with well-timed crescendos. This one-movement work included especially nice tuning between the flute and the first violin.

George Whitefied Chadwick's String Quartet No. 4 in e minor was first performed in Princeton in an 1896 concert of the Kneisel Quartet. The string quartet of the Richardson Chamber Players brought this piece back to life with rhythmic precision and especially lush viola playing by Mr. Scheindlin. The ensemble presented itself as a single block of sound, with each instrument maintaining its individuality in presenting the folk song themes of the first movement "Allegro."

In the second movement, the two violins and cello played with exact phrasing, and the ensemble ended solidly together. Ms. Chapman elicited a very rich and expansive sound from the cello in the third movement, one of the few times in the concert the cello was brought to the forefront, and the closing passacaglia was brought together exactly by the players.

Charles Martin Leoffler composed his Deux Rapsodies as songs for voice, clarinet, viola and piano, based on the poetry of 19th century French poet Maurice Rollinat. At the time Loeffler was a member of the Boston Symphony, and the work was apparently composed for several of his colleagues who subsequently died in an 1898 ship sinking. Loeffler rescored the work for oboe rather than clarinet, and removed the text, leaving "songs without words" in the style of Mendelssohn. This work was very different than the previous two pieces on the program, with forceful piano accompaniment (by Geoffrey Burleson) and an elegant dialogue between violist Mr. Scheindlin and oboist Matthew Sullivan.

The three players demonstrated clearly agreed-upon dynamics within the interesting shifts of harmony. The music told the story of the poem in a programmatic way common to late 19th century European composers, and one could easily follow along the moods of the verses. The second poem ("Le Cornemuse") told the story of a bagpiper, and as could be expected, the oboe portrayed the role of the bagpipe, with Mr. Scheindlin playing in a quasi-improvisatory style.

Mrs. H.H.A. Beach (Amy Marcy Cheney Beach) composed her Piano Quintet in f-sharp minor in 1908 in part as a vehicle for herself as piano soloist. She performed the work with the Kneisel Quartet in Princeton in 1917, and the Quintet went on to become one of her most popular works. The piano part is fiercely difficult, but Elizabeth DiFelice had the music well in hand and was in full command of the instrument. This work opened with a very dark "Adagio," as violinists Lisa Shihoten and Sunghae Anna Lim traded chairs, giving a different sound to the first violin and inner parts. The second movement "Adagio expressivo" was the most accessible, with its lyrical melody, effectively played by Ms. Shihoten and Ms. DiFelice.

This piece captured a slice of early 20th century Americana --- one could well imagine a quintet of musicians playing in the parlor of a mansion. The ensemble moved well together through the course of the music, with an especially poignant melody in the third movement from Ms. Shihoten.

The members of the Richardson Chamber Players all hold advanced degrees in performance, with countless years of experience among them. With their talents, these players could easily be buried in orchestras throughout the country, but instead, they have devoted their careers to chamber music (and in some cases, fortunately to teaching at Princeton University). It is also fortunate for Princeton audiences that they are able to bring little known gems from the chamber repertory to the stage.

The next performance will be on Sunday, February 19, 2006 at Richardson Auditorium with music of Copland, Antheil, Farwell and Griffes. Call (609) 258-5000 for information.


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