Mark Gresham | 18 SEP 2023
Last Monday evening saw a rare performance by Ensemble ATL, a chamber music ensemble created and directed by conductor Robert J. Ambrose in 2021, which includes musicians drawn from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Opera Orchestra, Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, and the Georgia State University School of Music faculty. The performance, apparently only the fourth in Ensemble ATL’s brief history, took place at Kopleff Recital Hall on the campus of GSU, where Ambrose currently serves as Director of Bands and Professor of Music.
Entitled “Getting Their Due,” the program explored three musical works for which some element has risen from obscurity to rightful recognition, offering each a well-deserved spotlight.
The concert opened with Cassation in E♭ Major by Johann Georg Lickl (1769-1843), performed by oboist Lara Dahl, clarinetist Melissa Lander, bassoonist Anthony Georgeson, and hornist Kimberly Gilman. It’s not an obscure work but one that had been long-attributed to Mozart, who was some 13 years older than Lickl. The music was first printed in 1798 by the Viennese publisher Joseph Eder. However, it was only two decades ago that a complete copy of this edition surfaced in a Hungarian library, revealing its true composer at last.
The Cassation is an amiable late-Classical era piece with some loyal adherents today (particularly clarinetists). Although it is hardly a stunning work, it is pleasant enough and was performed attractively by the quartet.
A complete change of musicians came with the next piece, Gustav Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor — actually, a single movement for a planned but abandoned quartet for piano, violin, viola, and cello composed by the then 16-year-old Mahler while studying at the Vienna Conservatory. The complete first movement, plus some sketches for a scherzo, is Mahler’s sole surviving piece of instrumental chamber music. It remained out of sight until his widow, Alma Mahler, rediscovered it in the early 1960s.
Performed in this concert by violinist Adelaide Federici, violist Tania Maxwell Clements, cellist Brad Ritchie, and pianist Erika Tazawa, the Piano Quartet proved an intriguing insight into the early development of Mahler’s style.
It’s hardly surprising (from a programming perspective) that all of the musicians in the previous works, plus contrabassist Emory Clements and conductor Ambrose, would come together for the final work on the program, the Nonet in F Minor, Op. 2, by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875 – 1912), composed in 1894 and premiered that same year in a student concert at the Royal College of Music. It apparently went unperformed until the recent times. Coleridge-Taylor himself is hardly obscure, but his music has experienced a significantly greater visibility with the significant surge in programming music by BIPOC composers (Black, Indigenous, [and] People of Color) over the last few years.
Although Coleridge-Taylor was influenced by his great admiration of Dvořák, this Nonet exhibited the composer’s individuality of voice and an unvarnished confidence of self-expression. It was a worthy conclusion to the concert. ■
- Ensemble ATL: hfacebook.com/EnsembleATL