Mark Gresham | 24 MAY 2022
On Sunday afternoon, the Atlanta Chamber Players presented their final concert of the 2022-23 season in the amiable acoustics of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.
Oboist Elizabeth Koch Tiscione and pianist Elizabeth Pridgen opened the program with the Oboe Sonata in D major, Op. 166, by Camille Saint-Saëns, composed in 1921. It was the first of three sonatas for wind instruments he wrote before the composer died that same year; the others were for clarinet and bassoon.
The tempos of its three movements (“Andantino,” “Ad libitum – Allegretto – Ad libitum,” and “Molto allegro”) increase successively. The pastoral first movement’s theme recalled the notes of the Westminster Chimes (G♯, F♯, E, B). The second is a Romance framed by “ad libitum” opening and closing sections, followed by a brisk and challenging final movement. For some listeners, the piece may come across as a bit of a departure compared to Saint-Saëns’ more familiar works, but the performance made for a pleasant soft launch of the program.
A Birmingham, Alabama native and currently an assistant professor at the Louisiana State University School of Music, composer Brian Raphael Nabors first came to the attention of the Atlanta Chamber Players when he won the Rapido! National Composition Contest in January 2019, a national competition created and hosted by the ACP and the Antinori Foundation 10 years earlier.
As winner of the competition’s National Grand Prize, Nabors composed 7 Dances for ACP and Onward for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, both premiering the same week in November of that year. For Sunday’s concert, the Atlanta Chamber Players commissioned Nabors to write another work, his Piano Quintet. Ms. Pridgen was joined by violinists Helen Hwaya Kim and Kenn Wagner, violist Catherine Lynn, and cellist Brad Ritchie in performing it.
The Quintet’s relentless “Bootleg Hoedown,” which opens the work, digs vigorously into the fiddling square dance genre, replete with foot stomps by the string players and raucous chord clusters in the piano, but to backs off at times to merge some jazz and R&B influences into the mix. The slow second movement, titled “Expanse,” was the most sonically interesting, opening pianissimo with eerie tremolo upper strings over a pizzicato cello figure; in the middle, a melancholic solo viola line with piano passed to the cello before a return to the opening atmosphere for its conclusion. The final movement, “Flight,” was a dense, dark, and flurried scherzo.
Among the numerous organ compositions written by Liechtensteiner organist and composer Josef Rheinberger are some 22 “Trios” for organ and two other instruments. It is rare to hear a work by the stylistically conservative Rheinberger outside of an organ concert. Still, we got to sample some of one of his Organ Trios in this concert, the Suite in C minor, Op 149, when violinist Wagner and cellist Ritchie teamed up with organist Jens Korndörfer for two movements after intermission: movement II, “Tema mit Varänderungen” a slow and lyrical theme with seven variations, and movement IV, a toccata marked “Con moto.”
Wagner and Ritchie moved to the top of the chancel to play near the organ console where Korndörfer was seated. The balance was better in the theme and variations than in the toccata, where the organ part was more forthcoming and lively. Passages naturally fared better where violin and cello doubled at the octave in louder dynamics, but there was otherwise a good presence of the strings.
The concert concluded with the Horn Trio in E♭ major, Op. 40, by Johannes Brahms, played by hornist Susan Welty with Kim and Pridgen. Welty’s playing glowed impressively with clean lyrical tone and phrasing, well-balanced with Kim’s violin and Pridgen’s piano.
A leisurely, autumnal “Andante – Poco più animato” set the emotional stage for the piece, followed by a sparkling second movement scherzo with a slower, darker trio. That mood returned in the hauntingly elegiac third movement marked “Adagio mesto,” with some brief rays of light in the appearance of a German folk melody, “Dort in den Weiden steht ein Haus” (“There in the meadow stands a house”) — a tune that reappeared, transformed, in the exuberantly galloping, earthy Finale for a thrilling end to the program. ■
- Atlanta Chamber Players: atlantachamberplayers.com