Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 42
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
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Three Reconfigured Pieces Featured In 2007 Season Opening Concert

Nancy Plum

The Richardson Chamber Players opened their 2007-08 season in Richardson Auditorium on Sunday afternoon with a concert entitled “Arrangements Have Been Made.” The title conjured up a myriad of possible interpretations, the most likely of which was that the program would be comprised of arrangements done specifically for the Players. Indeed, the ensemble of chamber players had selected three works by noted composers which were not arranged specifically for them, but which were reconfigured from other successful works. In two of these cases, the arrangements were done by the composer, and in the third, the arranger was a student and friend of the composer. In the current 21st century emphasis on environmental recycling, musical recycling does not sound like such a bad idea.

Darius Milhaud composed Suite de Concert de la Creation du monde when commissioned to write a ballet based on an African creation myth. Milhaud chose his original orchestration (seventeen solo instruments, including alto saxophone) based on his fascination with American jazz. Although public reception to this work was not terribly good, the world of music later caught up with Milhaud’s forward-thinking musical concept, and in 1926, the composer transcribed the work for string quartet and piano. Richardson Chamber Players regulars violinist Anna Lim and pianist Elizabeth DiFelice were joined by violinist Kiri Murakami, violist Dov Scheindlin and cellist Thomas Kraines for a solid and well thought-out performance of the five-movement piece.

The opening instrumental palette could be heard as earth forming in a void, with living elements arising from the piano part. The cello playing of Mr. Kraines served as a solid underpinning for a very full violin solo from Ms. Lim. Together, the string quartet played very dramatically, including a haunting duet between Mr. Kraines and Mr. Scheindlin against the piano. The collective timbre of the five instruments came together as the piece moved along, with a very elegant close to the first movement. Milhaud’s interest in jazz became evident in the second movement, with many blue notes one does not normally hear from a string quartet. Violinists Lim and Murakami managed to “wail” on their instruments in what was a very busy movement. Especially in the fourth movement Scherzo, the quartet was exactly with the piano, including very precise pizzicato playing from the lower strings.

Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht was a turning point in musical history. Composed in 1899 as a sextet for strings, this work drew its inspiration from a late 19th century poem by the German writer Richard Dehmel, and is one of the earliest programmatic chamber works. The piece was transcribed for piano trio by Edward Steuermann, a student of Schoenberg and long-time interpreter of his music. The result, as played by pianist Jennifer Tao, violinist Anna Lim, and cellist Thomas Kraines, was a dramatic and well-paced performance. Ms. Tao was equally as precise as Ms. DiFelice (some of the piano passages were demonic) and especially in the beginning, the trio kept the musical atmosphere subdued.

Throughout the piece, Ms. Lim brought out the sweetness of the music, and toward the end of the one-movement work, Mr. Kraines demonstrated a rich, vibrato-laden side of his cello, contrasting with the later stark playing of the strings. This piece worked well as a trio — there was a great deal of variety in the music and opportunity for challenging playing.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano and Winds was composed between 1794 and 1797 and modeled after Mozart’s work for the same instruments. Beethoven later transcribed the work for piano quartet, keeping the piano part almost the same as the original (most likely featuring himself as pianist). Ms. Lim, Mr. Scheindlin, Mr. Kraines, and Ms. DiFelice opened the work with an elegant “Grave,” including very delicate piano playing from Ms. DiFelice. The strings were well unified, and it was clear that in this format, this piece was great 19th century parlor music. The music took off uniformly from the four players, with DiFelice maintaining a light touch on the piano, including extended trills which closed the first and third movements. All instruments had the chance to be romantically melodic in the second movement “Andante.”

Richardson Chamber Players has not established any overall theme for the season, but instead will present three concerts of distinct character. The ensemble now has an established core of players, and has been around long enough to incorporate recent University graduates (such as Ms. Murakami). Although it was hard to compete for an audience with a crisp fall gardening day, the program on Sunday afternoon was equally as refreshing and revitalizing.

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