Frost Chamber Players serve up a varied French feast

By Alan Becker

Perhaps the most interesting of Festival Miami’s 2010 programs was the one titled “Tour De Force,” with the Frost Chamber Players performing works rarely heard by South Florida audiences. Tuesday’s concert at the University of Miami’s Gusman Concert Hall even included a world premiere.

Camille Saint-Saens’ Septet for trumpet, string quintet and piano was destined from the start to be relegated to the fringe of the repertoire because of its unusual instrumentation. Dating from 1881 when the composer was 46, it was written in celebration of a chamber music society called provocatively “La Trompette. ”

It’s a piquant work in four movements ranging from a militaristic Preambule to a Gavotte et Final. If the composer did not quite have his heart in this commission, he utilized his technical abilities to the fullest, though only the final movement of this neo-classical work shows the master’s full spirit. Pianist Paul Posnak had the lion’s share of virtuosic writing to cope with, and his playing sparkled with the joyful flood of notes required. Craig Morris’s clarion trumpet playing blended as well as could reasonably be expected with the excellent ensemble.

With Poulenc’s Trio for oboe, bassoon, and piano we have a saucy dish in the composer’s best nose-thumbing style. In three short movements, it was not one note too long, especially in the knowing hands of Robert Weiner’s oboe, Luciano Magnanini’s bassoon, and Shelton Berg’s piano. All the spirit and wit of the music was projected by these artists.

Contemporary composer Christopher Caliendo was present to introduce his Sonata for Horn and Piano No.1 in its world premiere. Heavily indebted to jazz style, the composer cited such influences as Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, and has produced a three-movement work that reveled in the possibilities of “crossover” without any musical sacrifice to either.

Once again, Berg, Dean of the School of Music, threw himself into the rhythmic swing of the piece with obvious pleasure. Richard Todd’s horn playing was astonishing as he manipulated his instrument to execute blue notes, slurs and swoops that gave the work its full dimension. This is a totally entertaining composition that hopefully will have much success in future performance.

The Poem for flute and harp by Nuncio Mondello (1911-1992) was well played by two faculty members who were inadvertently not credited in the program. Trudy Kane and Deborah Fleisher created mellifluous sounds but the music, while pleasant, was somewhat faceless.

With the completion of his Sextet in C, Op. 37 in 1935, Ernst von Dohnanyi closed the book on writing chamber music. He lived until 1960, eventually taking a teaching post at Florida State University. As a distinguished pianist he continued to give concerts up until the time of his death.

While much of his chamber output can be described as post-Brahmsian, he managed to escape most of that in this Sextet. Coming on the heels of a long illness, it is somber but dramatic in the first two movements, but stirs with the jubilation of life in the final two linked sections. String players Glenn Basham, Pamela McConnell, and Ross Harbaugh were joined by clarinetist Margaret Donaghue, hornist Richard Todd, and pianist Tian Ying in bringing this frequently sublime creation to fruition.

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Wed Oct 27, 2010
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