Rembrandt Chamber Players open third decade with youthful verve

Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 10:14 am

By Wynne Delacoma

Rembrandt, self portrait, 1629.

A 21st birthday is a landmark event for most people, but arts organizations tend to save their big celebrations for five- or ten-year anniversaries.

The Rembrandt Chamber Players celebrated its 20th anniversary last season with appropriate fanfare. But this ensemble, which includes some of the city’s finest musicians, isn’t exactly coasting into a third decade. Launching its 2010-2011 season Sunday afternoon in Evanston at the Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Hall, the group sailed through the kind of eclectic repertoire its loyal audience has come to cherish.

The program opened with a buoyant performance of C.P.E. Bach’s G Major Sonata for flute and continuo with Sandra Morgan, flute, and David Schrader, harpsichord. Next came a serenade for violin, viola and cello by Ernst von Dohnanyi and Poulenc’s Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano. The concert closed with a fiercely energetic Brahms A Major Piano Quartet.

One of the major pleasures of a Rembrandt concert is the pleasure the musicians take in playing the music at hand. Many of them perform regularly with large, busy ensembles such as the Lyric Opera and Grant Park orchestras and Music of the Baroque. During Rembrandt concerts, they seem to revel in the chance to explore the more intimate world of chamber music.

Sunday afternoon’s concert was a fine mix of playful high spirits and more weighty pieces. In the Bach sonata Morgan’s flute sounded mellow and warm. Even her coloratura flights emerged with a gentle glow rather than sharp-edged glitter. The sonata’s sudden pauses and unresolved melodies, however, erupted like dashes of potent spice. Schrader’s crisp harpsichord set a brisk space.

Dohnanyi’s C Major Serenade, composed around 1902, hovered elegantly between traditional romanticism and more edgy, contemporary harmonies. In the opening bars violinist Robert Hanford, violist Yukiko Ogura and cellist Barbara Haffner attacked the short-breathed phrases with single-minded ferocity, their distinct voices merging into a full-bodied, confident outpouring. In the more somber fourth movement, Hanford’s sweet-toned violin, Ogura’s lustrous viola and Haffner’s soulful cello took turns in the spotlight.

Good cheer and buoyant playfulness returned in Poulenc’s Trio, a 1926 work performed by oboist Robert Morgan, bassoonist Dennis Michel and pianist Jeannie Yu. At times the players pursued each other with the boundless spontaneity of children playing tag.

After intermission the Brahms A Major Quartet unfolded with both windswept passion and impeccable technical control .At the piano, Yu tossed off mighty, crunching chords and delicate single-lined traceries with equal ease. Hanford, Ogura and Haffner offered ardent string playing full of rich, deep color.

The Rembrandt Chamber Players will be performing all over the area during its 21st season. In addition to Nichols Hall, venues will include the casual, cabaret-like S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston and the Driehaus Museum, housed in the restored, 19th century Nickerson mansion on Chicago’s Gold Coast.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Rembrandt Chamber Players open third decade with youthful verve”

  1. Posted Oct 12, 2010 at 1:05 pm by Bill Nerenberg

    Not only am I not surprised by this splendid review of several chamber masterpieces, but my knowledge of the musicians tells me that you are 100% correct in your assessment of their love for performing these pieces. Chicago is very lucky to have ensembles like Rembrandt and should be flocking to their concerts. This is chamber music at its very best!

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