Mark Gresham | 7 FEB 2023
On Sunday afternoon, the Atlanta Chamber Players performed their winter concert at the Ahavath Achim Synagogue in northwest Atlanta. The program’s first half featured music by two 19th-century Jewish composers, Max Bruch and Giacomo Meyerbeer (born Jakob Liebmann Beer).
Although Max Bruch is remembered primarily for his Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op 26, and the Kol Nidrei, Op 47, for cello and orchestra, his most well-known chamber work is the Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op 83, which he composed for his son, Max Felix, a professional clarinetist.
Clarinetist Laura Ardan, violist Catherine Lynn, and pianist Robert Henry opened Sunday’s concert with three of the eight pieces, nos. 4, 6 & 7 — “Allegro agitato,” “Nachgesang. Andante con moto,” and “Allegro vivace, ma non troppo” respectively.
The three beautifully played selections came across as well-wrought miniatures, passionate and elegant in a settled way that nodded at several precedent composers of the German Romantic tradition, even though written in 1910 at the cusp of significant social and cultural changes that would soon eclipse the style.
Next, violinists Helen Hwaya Kim and Kenn Wagner and cellist Brad Ritchie joined Ardan and Lynn for the Clarinet Quintet in E♭ major by Giacomo Meyerbeer.
Meyerbeer was primarily known as a composer of opera. His chamber music is rarely mentioned. But in 1813, Meyerbeer wrote a quintet for clarinet and strings for a close friend, German clarinet virtuoso Heinrich Bärmann.
The composer’s autograph score of the Clarinet Quintet vanished in World War ll and only recently resurfaced in the estate of Bärmann’s son, Carl, who was also a clarinetist. The autograph contains only two movements: “Allegro moderato” and “Rondo, allegro scherzando.” Current scholarship denies some assertions about the existence of a third middle movement, so two it is. The critical Bärenreiter urtext edition (edited by Dieter Klöcker) remains true to the autograph.
Like the Clarinet Quintet of his contemporary, Carl Maria von Weber, Meyerbeer’s is a vehicle for the clarinetist as a soloist, allowing the clarinet part to stand out above the strings clearly and push the limits of standard clarinet technique, all capably handled by Ardan.
After intermission, violinist David Coucheron and pianist Elizabeth Pridgen joined Kim, Lynn, and Ritchie in performing Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81, which combines the composer’s signature expressive lyricism with original tunes that impress as if Czech folk music.
In the opening measures, the cello and piano set that lyrical tone for the exuberant, multi-hued first movement, marked “Allegro, ma non tanto.” The second movement, “Andante con moto,” was a dumka, while the “Molto vivace” scherzo that followed took on the mantle of a furiant.
The “Allegro” finale began with machine-gun bursts in the piano accompanied by raucous strings. The movement’s rapid-fire pace was only assuaged at a brief tranquillo chorale in the coda, followed by a final rush to the emphatic end.
Next week, the Atlanta Chamber Players will head to San Miguel de Allende, on the far eastern part of Guanajuato, Mexico, for two concerts at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on February 17 and 19 as part of the city’s Pro Musica Presents concert series. Artistic director Elizabeth Pridgen will not be going on the brief international tour because she is pregnant. Robert Henry will serve as the group’s tour pianist. ■