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Kaufman Music Center Presents the Manhattan Chamber Players at Merkin Concert Hall
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Kaufman Music Center Presents the Manhattan Chamber Players at Merkin Concert Hall

- Classical and Cultural Connections

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Kaufman Music Center

Manhattan Chamber Players

Luke Fleming, Viola and Artistic Director
Chris Rogerson, Composer
Violins: Francisco Fullana, Siwoo Kim, Grace Park, Michelle Ross
Viola: Molly Carr, Cellos: Michael Katz, Brook Speltz
Piano, Adam Golka

Merkin Concert Hall
(Merkin Hall Website)
Press: Joan Jastrebski

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 6, 2016 Matinee

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20 (1825): “Allegro moderato ma non fuoco”, “Andante”, “Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo”, “Presto”.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Two Pieces for String Octet, Op. 11 (1925): “No. 1 Prelude”, “No. 2 Scherzo”.

Chris Rogerson (b. 1988): Shadows Lengthen (2015).

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899): Concert for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet in D major, Op. 21 (1891).

It was such a pleasant surprise to experience the Manhattan Chamber Players, a vibrant, ebullient ensemble of young chamber musicians. As this was a Tuesday matinee performance, the audience was mostly filled with seasoned concert-goers, many retired, and they were extraordinarily attentive and appreciative with generous accolades after each musical piece. The ensemble listed above seemed somewhat shifted for the concert, with no notes of a program change, but most musicians were as they appear in the Manhattan Chamber Players website. All were excellent, even sensational. Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major opened with the “Allegro” movement, with an exuberant concertmaster, Francisco Fullana. It should be noted that the “lead” or “concertmaster” changed for each piece, giving these rising stars extra showcasing. The cello took deeper variations of the violin theme in echoing phrases. Mournful contemplative passages followed in the “Andante”, with yearning strings stretching keys for expressiveness. The “Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo” presented a dancing motif in the tempo, joyful and ingénue. The “Presto” finale was dynamic and fervent, with serendipitous notes added to a bubbly theme.

The Artistic Director of the Chamber Players, Luke Fleming, a violist in the ensemble, offered, with warmth and communicative expertise, anecdotes about each of today’s composers. We learned that each of the programmatic presentations was created when the composer was young, and Mendelssohn composed the above Octet when he was just sixteen. Mendelssohn was only thirty-eight when he died, also noted by Mr. Fleming. Shostakovich, as well, was in his youth at the age of nineteen when he composed Two Pieces for String Octet. This work was decidedly more buoyant and frolicking than the Shostakovich oeuvres with which we associate this intense, prolific composer. “No. 1 Prelude” found the ensemble in new seating positions, with a couple of changes in performers. This first half of the Octet was mysterious, with atonal, surreal elements. Michelle Ross, on violin, added rapid, enticing sharpness in the moment, leading into the “No.2 Scherzo”, which was dervish and dramatic. Chris Rogerson, the young Resident Composer in Manhattan Chamber Players, wrote Shadows Lengthen last year as an homage to his grandmother, who had just passed away. This brief work opened with mournful dissonance and gorgeous viola passages for Molly Carr and Mr. Fleming. The cellos were especially entrancing. The music exuded the depth of the composer’s loss. Mr. Rogerson appeared onstage for two sets of applause.

The final piece in today’s program was Chausson’s Concert for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet in D major. This composition was created when Chausson was thirty-six, only eight years before his untimely death; Mr. Fleming had informed us that Chausson had written a deathly premonition in his diary, making this piece all the more poignant. “Décidé – Animé” began with surreal, eerie, filmatic harmonies, astoundingly rapturous. In the moment this first movement seemed balletic, a great score for a new ballet. Mr. Fleming was spotlighted with joyful viola phrases. Grace Park, solo violinist, stood stage left, with the quartet (two violins, viola, cello) to her right and the piano nearby. In the “Sicilienne: Pas Vite”, Adam Golka, on piano, another talented, rising star, presented a gorgeous melody with echoes from the cello and then the violins. The sound was truly sumptuous and transporting. The “Grave” third movement highlighted Ms. Park’s luminous violin solo, repeated by the quartet. Theatric emotionality ensued in this driven, angst-imbued theme, ending in the whispering, breathlessness of the strings. In the “Tres animé” finale, Mr. Golka was the object of everyone’s attention as he created keyboard waterfalls of deeply resonating notes, enhanced by the cello. Sweeping string pizzicato followed, as the Concert ended in the warmth of the piano’s mesmerizing theme. Kudos to all.

And now I will listen to the Chausson Concert for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet in D major.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at