By Nancy Plum
Continuing Princeton University Concerts’ 125th Anniversary season, Richardson Chamber Players presented an afternoon of mixed chamber works composed during the inaugural season of the Concerts series. In a Sunday concert at Richardson Auditorium entitled Then and Now, six musicians of the Richardson Chamber Players juxtaposed works composed in 1894 and 1895 with music of today, demonstrating connections among pieces written more than 100 years ago. Most of the works on Sunday afternoon’s program paid tribute to the University Concerts’ inaugural year, with the Eric Nathan’s very contemporary Threads for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano making the compositional leap into the 21st century.
The Chamber Players began their journey into Then and Now with a work for solo piano as pianist Geoffrey Burleson performed a paraphrase for solo piano of 19th-century French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Paraphrases were virtuosic solo instrumental works based on popular melodies of the time, in the case of Saint-Saëns’ La mort de Thaïs, music from Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs. Saint-Saëns set the opera’s “Vision” tableau of Act III, as well as the more well-known “Meditation,” and Burleson began the work with clarity in opening octaves punctuated by rolling arpeggios. Burleson played percussively, creating tension which moved the music along. This paraphrase was more driven than dreamy, although Burleson was effective in stretching the lines in a more pensive second section. Burleson finished the Saint-Saëns piece in majestic style, with virtuosic flourishes from the keyboard.
German composer Richard Strauss composed a generation later than Saint-Saëns, which can be heard in his boundary-pushing harmonics and emotional setting of text. Strauss composed more than 200 songs, and soprano Rochelle Ellis, accompanied by Burleson, presented four of them in thoughtful and unhurried fashion. The four songs performed by Ellis set poetry of varied text and mood, and Ellis well demonstrated Strauss’ picturesque writing with solid control of the vocal lines and animated storytelling. The third song in particular, “Heimliche Aufforderung,” showed an especially free-flowing accompaniment from Burleson and a sensitive ending to the text from Ellis. more