Pianist Elizabeth Pridgen and clarinetist Alcides Rodriguez open the Atlanta Cham,ber Players concert with "Peace" by Jessie Montgomery. (FPCA)

Atlanta Chamber Players offer elegant choice of modern and classical music

Atlanta Chamber Players
November 14, 2021
First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta
Presented by Concerts@First
Alcides Rodriguez, clarinet; Helen Hwaya Kim and John Meisner, violins; Catherine Lynn, viola; Brad Ritchie, cello; Elizabeth Pridgen- piano

Jessie MONTGOMERY: Peace
Kenji BUNCH: Dies Irie
Jennifer HIGDON: Southern Harmony
Benjamin KRAUSE: Notes from Inside (world premiere)
Johannes BRAHMS: Piano Quartt No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60

Giorgio Koukl | 16 NOV 2021

The Atlanta Chamber Players performed some excellent chamber music selections in First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta on Sunday, November 14. The first part of the concert was dedicated entirely to living composers, most of them with some connection to the City of Atlanta.

Jessie Montgomery’s Peace (1981) for clarinet and piano was a very well chosen opener for a concert. With its slow and elegant mood, like a nocturne, it immediately established a beautiful atmosphere where every note was pondered, well-chosen, and apt to build a big arch of luxury. This is American-style music at its best.

Alcides Rodriguez played his clarinet with a great sense of sonic beauty, obtaining excellent results, especially in the low register. Elizabeth Pridgen accompanied him on the piano with bright harmonic layers and a superior choice of dynamics.


Dies Irie (1973) by Kenji Bunch was the second of the short pieces in the program.

This work for piano trio has its particular beauty, well balanced, where only occasionally the listener could suspect that this music was not written in the 19th century. Ms. Pridgen, in her short initial explanation, tried to explain the strange name of this work. We all know quite a lot of DIES IRAE, God’s fury, this being a part of a Requiem mass. But DIES IRIE?

It was explained that through this misspelling, the meaning changed to “all is well” (in Jamaican Patois). Why not? But please remember that semantics is a complicated science, so it could also be a Greek goddess transformed in a lake. Have your choice. All musicians played concentratedly, well balanced, giving us a beautiful rendering.

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Jennifer Higdon’s Southern Harmony, a string quartet, followed. With its three movements, “Sof Summers,” “Reel Time,” and “Gentle Waltz,” it was the most extended piece on the first half of the program. While not immediately a public pleaser, with its first movement strangely overcharged and without a real line of development, things got better in the second movement, a sort of square dance. Unfortunately, the last movement returns to the erratic, not very convincing compositional procedure, where even the very professional playing of the musicians cannot help much.

Composer Benjamin Krause (credit: Aimee Tomasek)

Composer Benjamin Krause (credit: Aimee Tomasek)

The last piece before intermission was Notes From Inside by Benjamin Krause. This composition, a winner of the Atlanta Chamber Players’ most recent Rapido! composition contest, was expanded from its original five minutes to nearly 15. As Mr. Krause explains in a short video, the idea of adding further movements to form a suite with very loose interplay between the individual movements was attractive.

This music is immediately appealing. Its freshness, inventive rhythmic treatment of single instruments, and constant pulsating flow made it the highlight of the evening.

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After a short break, Johannes Brahms and his Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor op. 60 served as a counterweight to the first half. Written in 1875, it sometimes bears the name of “Werther Quartet” in memory of the great Goethe’s novel. Some scholars explained the main theme with a way to transcribe the word CLARA with musical notes. Certainly, Brahms was a life-long friend and secretly in love with Clara Schumann, wife of Robert Schumann, but the transcription is somehow capricious.

With its four movements, “Allegro non troppo,” “Scherzo: Allegro,” “Andante,” and “Finale: Allegro comodo,” it represents one of the pinnacles of chamber music of the 19th century.

l-r: Helen Hwaya Kim, Elizabeth Pridgen, Catherine Lynn and Brad Ritchie perform "Piano Quartet No. 3" by Johannes Brahms. (FPCA)

l-r: Helen Hwaya Kim, Elizabeth Pridgen, Catherine Lynn and Brad Ritchie perform “Piano Quartet No. 3” by Johannes Brahms. (FPCA)

The unsentimental approach of Helen Hwaya Kim, Catherine Lynn, Brad Ritchie, and Elizabeth Pridgen was an excellent choice. We too often get the rendering of this music far too romantic, too sweet, only to hear the musical intentions distorted.

Not in this case. All musicians gave their best, clearly demonstrating their profound knowledge of this piece, where all the interactions, dynamic ranges, and rhythmic precision were exemplary. I have to underline especially the fabulous piano technique of Ms. Pridgen.

The overall choice of the program proved to be a winning one. The counterweight of Brahms contra four living composers, in theory a tricky balance, evidenced to be a right choice.

Giorgio Koukl (photo: Chiara Solari)

Giorgio Koukl is a Czech-born pianist/harpsichordist and composer who resides in Lugano, Switzerland. Among his many recordings are the complete solo piano works and complete piano concertos of Bohuslav Martinů on the Naxos label. He has also recorded the piano music of Tansman, Lutosławski, Kapralova, and A. Tcherepnin, amongst others, for the Grand Piano label. Koukl has most recently completed recording the solo piano music of Hungarian composer Tibor Harsányi.
(photo: Chiara Solari)