Rembrandt Chamber Players offer a vibrant program, suited to the Dreihaus Museum

Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 12:17 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Charles Tomlinson Griffes' "Poem" was performed by the Rembrandt Chamber Players Monday night..
Charles Tomlinson Griffes’ “Poem” was performed by the Rembrandt Chamber Players Monday night..

A sizable audience gathered Monday night in the third-floor performance space of the meticulously restored Richard Driehaus Museum for solo turns by members of the Rembrandt Chamber Players.

The ensemble scaled down their group to the size of the space and the intimate scale of the music was perfectly suited, providing a Gilded Age experience even if some of the music didn’t come from that period.

It didn’t hurt that the Museum’s second floor was taken up with an exhibition of Tiffany stained glass and other objects of great beauty, giving vibrant life to the evening’s time-capsule ambiance.

The first piece fit the bill chronologically and was also among the best. Charles Tomlinson Griffes’ late (1918) Poem for flute and piano, better known in its orchestral version, is a condensation of this composer’s later style which combined impressionism with pastoralism and an oriental exoticism into a heady mixture of sensual pleasures.

Sandra Morgan gave a solid and fluent performance of this episodic work which is one of Griffes’ few fully realized compositions.  From the portentous opening chords through several atmospheric interludes, Jeannie Yu was a supportive partner on piano, rising to the challenges of the score triumphantly.

Although written long after the Gilded Age was over, Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid (1951) for oboe are elegant fragments that fit into the solo scheme of the evening very neatly.  Each metamorphosis presented particular technical issues which were neatly polished off by oboist Robert Morgan, who proved enticing as Pan, rollicking as Phaeton, tragic as Niobe, reflective as Narcissus, and liquid as the fountain Arethusa.

As read by Frank Babbitt, the brief humorous commentaries by Ron Morgan in the manner of Ogden Nash’s verses for The Carnival of the Animals, set the stage for Morgan’s later performance of the Saint-Saens’ Oboe Sonata.

Barbara Haffner sailed through a cello transcription of the Rachmaninoff Vocalise with Jeannie Yu again providing indispensable support on piano. The cellist showed an ease of tone from the start, her performance held together with singing and subtle dynamics and dreamlike phrasing.

The second half of the short program opened with the Saint-Saens Sonata for Oboe, dating from 1921, the composer’s last year.  With its retrospective classicism clothed in late romantic sensibility, the sonata is another piece perfectly suited to the setting. Robert Morgan easily handled the many runs, trills and childlike melodies, closing out the spirited piece with a good-humored flourish.

In the Rembrandt Players tradition of including challenging works among less demanding standard fare, Barbara Haffner drew on a piece by the iconoclastic Leo Ornstein, presenting three movements from his 6 Preludes for Cello and Piano. The selections were dark and heady with dramatic tonalities, dynamic contests between cello and piano and bombastic punctuations easily filling the small space.  Haffner’s comparison to Scriabin put the work into a Gilded Age context which closed out the evening neatly.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Rembrandt Chamber Players offer a vibrant program, suited to the Dreihaus Museum”

  1. Posted Feb 28, 2014 at 11:45 pm by Ann Cole

    A wonderful and richly deserved review. Congratulations to Sandie, Bob, Jeannie and Barbara for a memorable evening. So glad we could be there in person to hear these gems. And also kudos to Ron Morgan for his delightful narratives.

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