Richardson Chamber Players Opens Season With a Concert of 19th Century Elegance
Now that the Richardson Chamber Players has established itself as a consistently high quality performing ensemble with an impressive roster of musicians, it seems that co-artistic directors Nathan Randall and Michael Pratt have turned their attention away from the mainstream to present unique and rarely-heard repertoire, including works with an unusual connection to Princeton University's past. Sunday afternoon's concert in Richardson Auditorium, presented by five players, linked a little-researched 19th century performing phenomenon with Princeton University history.
In mid to late 19th century Europe, string quartets abounded, and one of the most renowned was the Joachim Quartet, led by violin virtuoso and composer Joseph Joachim. Like many virtuosi, Joachim kept lofty composer company, including Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. The quartet was depicted in an etching by Viennese artist Ferdinand Schmutzer, an etching that subsequently made its way to Princeton's campus and hangs outside Taplin Auditorium. The Richardson Chamber Players chose this etching as the basis for their concert Sunday, programming works of Joachim and his contemporaries and colleagues.
Joachim was the recipient of a collaborative composition from Schumann, Brahms and Albert Dietrich, two movements of which opened the concert on Sunday afternoon. Sonata F.A.E. for Violin and Piano includes two Allegro movements in which pianist Elizabeth DiFelice and violinist Sunghae Anna Lim demonstrated sensitive playing and perfect communication between players. Although not virtuostic, Ms. Lim's part was full of intensity and breadth, much in the style of 19th century song, which she conveyed with great musicality. In the first movement, composed by Dietrich, the wide dynamic ranges were maneuvered smoothly, accompanied by Ms. DiFelice's majestic piano playing.
The second Allegro movement, composed by Brahms, required much more collaboration between the two players in Brahms' trademark rhythmic precision. Through their solid playing, Ms. DiFelice and Ms. Lim were able to effectively bring this unusual work to a very dramatic and cohesive close.
Clara Schumann's music was overshadowed by that of her more famous husband Robert, but her Trio in G Minor for Piano and Strings exemplifies well the richness of 19th century string writing. Violinist Lim and cellist Sophie Shao played exactly together, accompanied by Ms. DiFelice's subtle piano playing, especially in the lower register. The three instruments together created a seamless sound that was fresh and spirited, with endings of the movements especially well tapered.
These two opening works fit into the Chamber Players' programmatic scheme as they were premiered or performed with Joachim as violinist. Joachim's own music was featured in a performance of his Hebrew Melodies by Ms. DiFelice and violist Nicholas Cords. Subtitled Impressions of Byron Poems, this three-movement programmatic work contained harmonies and melodies that look back to Schubert, and a dark piano part brightened by Mr. Cords' seamless viola playing. The three movements continually presented refined interplay between piano and viola, and Mr. Cords' smooth double stops impressively closed the work.
Ms. DeFilice and Ms. Shao were joined in the final work on the program, Brahms' Trio in A Minor for Clarinet, Violoncello, and Piano, by clarinetist Evan Spritzer. This work was unusual in that it began with the cello, with a sound that was perfectly matched by the clarinet. Low in the registers of all three instruments, this work from late in Brahms' life relied on a delicate conversation between the clarinet and cello. Mr. Spritzer's sensitive and insightful playing was evident throughout, as the clarinet emerged from nothingness in the second movement Adagio and artistically faded to almost inaudible at times, supported by an elegant pizzicato cello.
This movement in particular is a hidden treasure in the chamber repertoire, and it is clear that the clarinet part was not written for just anyone, but rather a virtuoso contemporary of Brahms. Mr. Spritzer certainly lived up to the challenge of his 19th century predecessor.
Although this program featured fewer players than other recent Chamber Players programs, it was one of their best concerts. Although the four works were from the same half-century and many of the same instruments, there was variety in color and nuance and supreme stylishness in playing. One cannot underestimate Ms. DiFelice's playing, who accompanied all four works with refinement and finesse.
The Richardson Chamber Players' next concert is on November 5 at the Princeton University Art Museum. The concert, free to the public, will begin at 7:30 p.m.