Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 41
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
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Richardson Chamber Players New Approach Features Strings in Season’s First Concert

Nancy Plum

The Richardson Chamber Players has a new approach to this season’s series of three concerts. With some new players on the roster, artistic co-directors Michael Pratt and Nathan Randall have focused each of the three concerts on a different family of orchestral instruments. Sunday afternoon’s concert in Richardson Auditorium, the first of the series, featured strings, with two violinists, two violists, and two cellists in a program of 19th and early 20th century music.

Among the new faces in the ensemble, the most notable is violist Crista Kende, who graduated from Princeton two years ago and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the Juilliard School. Playing side by side with her former teacher at Princeton, Ms. Kende fit right into the ensemble of seasoned professionals.

Richardson Chamber Players next concert will be March 28, 2010. This concert will feature the woodwinds and horns of the ensemble, and will include works by Antonin Dvorak and Richard Wagner. For information call the Richardson box office at
(609) 258-5000.

Violinist Lisa Shihoten and pianist Jennifer Tao opened the performance with a set of short but appealing pieces for solo violin and piano. Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances (as arranged for violin and piano by Zoltan Szekely) are based on folk tunes collected from European villages, and Ms. Shihoten effectively drew out the familiar melodies punctuated by a sharp pizzicato. Starting the first dance low in the violin’s register, Ms. Shihoten achieved a nice ringing tone in the upper register, as well as playing with an eerie ethereal effect in the third dance. Throughout the six dances, Ms. Tao provided a steady piano accompaniment, especially in the sixth dance, in which the piano was particularly well timed with the accents of the violin.

Maurice Ravel’s music is most known for its impressionistic palettes, but his later works effect the influence of more percussive composers, including Bartok. Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Violoncello is unusual in its absence of piano, and violinist Sunghae Anna Lim and cellist Thomas Kraines brought out both the rhythmic effects of the piece and its linear color in each movement’s continuous flow of music. In the first movement Allegro, Ms. Lim and Mr. Kraines played in an almost interchangeable style as the high register of the cello matched the violin. Both instruments were evenly matched in the amount of vibrato used, and at times the instruments seemed almost impossible to tell apart. Ms. Lim and Mr. Kraines were also able to play in a harsher and more severe tone in the second movement, and were able to create a great deal of rhythmic tension in the closing section.

Another unusual work for strings brought the concert to a close. Johannes Brahms’ Sextet in B-flat Major for Two Violins, Two Violas and Two Violoncellos is also unusual for 19th century chamber music by its absence of piano (Brahms later composed a second piece for this identical instrumentation) and the interaction among the six independent instruments was as complicated as any major symphonic work.

The Sextet began regally, as if an academic ceremonial piece and all players were clearly playing with sensitivity to one another. It was difficult to tell who was leading, as the six instrumentalists were clearly working together. Graceful pizzicatti from cellist Susannah Chapman and violist Crista Kende marked the first movement, and Ms. Kende led the melody at times with a rich tone which cut through the ensemble well.

The second movement began with a lush viola melody played by Nicholas Cords, and as the variations on this melody were passed among the instruments, Brahms’ demonic side came out in the very quick playing of cellist Thomas Kraines.

The six players showed exacting concentration and communication in a third movement Scherzo and Trio which could have easily fallen apart because of all the shifts in tempo and style, and a Beethoven-like finale brought this rarely-heard but engaging chamber work to a close.

The Richardson Chamber Players has subtitled this year’s concert series “All in Good Season.” The programming choice to focus on different families of instruments for each concert will certainly give audience members a good survey of the possibilities within a chamber orchestra.

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