American Chamber Players serve up rarities at Four Arts

By David Fleshler

The American Chamber Players performed Sunday afternoon at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Mary Noble Ours

The American Chamber Players perform Sunday afternoon at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Mary Noble Ours

Aside from a guy named Beethoven, the composers heard on the American Chamber Players concert Sunday in Palm Beach don’t show up very often in the concert hall.

Max Bruch turns up the most, after Beethoven, but that’s almost invariably through a violin concerto he composed when he was 28. (He lived to be 82.) So the American Chamber Players deserve a lot of credit for presenting works that audiences rarely get to hear, in a matinee performance at the Society of the Four Arts.

The ensemble, founded in 1985 from participants in The Library of Congress Summer Chamber Festival, opened with a work by Beethoven. But even here, it was something rarely heard, his String Trio in G Major, Op. 9, No. 1, a work he composed in his late 20s, before producing any of his quartets.

Written at the end of the 18th century, this is still Classical-era music but with gruff, clipped motifs that hint at the mature composer to come. Violinist Joanna Maurer, violist Miles Hoffman and cellist Inbal Segev gave an assertive account of the self-confident melodies of the first movement, while keeping the performance within 18th-century proportions. If the throbbing vibrato with which Maurer handled the Adagio had little to do with period style, the deeply expressive manner with which she played generated a rewarding performance of the long melody.

The most obscure works were the Trio in E Minor for Flute Cello and Piano by Louise Farrenc, a 19th-century French composer, and Bruch’s Piano Quintet in G Minor. If neither work sounded like an undiscovered masterpiece, there was plenty of good stuff in both.

A professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory, Farrenc displays in this work the French affection for the flute. The best parts of the trio took advantage of the instrument’s tactile contribution to the ensemble’s texture. Flutist Sara Stern brought a rounded tone and expressive style of phrasing to the themes of the first and second movements, making the most of this languid, atmospheric music.

The urgent, indelible theme of the first movement of the Piano Quintet would sound unmistakably like Bruch to anyone who knows his violin works. The Scherzo thumped along with earthy vitality, aided by a committed performance by the musicians. The Finale was well-crafted and hard-driving, if lacking in memorable themes.

The finest performance of the afternoon came in the Poem for Flute and Piano by Charles Tomlinson Griffes, an early 20th-American composer who died young of influenza. Stern gave a wistful, dreamy account of the melancholy opening melodies, which create a mood reminiscent of Debussy. The works turns turbulent, with wailing bursts of runs, handled adroitly by Stern. Accompanying her on the piano, Anna Stoytcheva played with a velvety tone that blended well with the flute.

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Sun Jan 11, 2015
at 8:01 pm
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