From Mozart to Adams, Rembrandt Chamber Players close the season with a varied lineup

Thu May 22, 2014 at 12:43 pm

By John Y. Lawrence

Julia Bentley performed Gabriel Fauré’s "La bonne chanson" with the Rembrandt Chamber Players  Wednesday night at the Logan Center.
Julia Bentley performed Gabriel Fauré’s “La bonne chanson” with the Rembrandt Chamber Players Wednesday night at the Logan Center.

“Old and New World Folk” was the theme for the Rembrandt Chamber Players’ final season program presented at the Logan Center for the Arts Wednesday night (repeated tonight in Evanston).

The concert opened with a performance by violinist Renée-Paule Gauthier and violist Anthony Devroye of Mozart’s String Duo in G major, a work that Mozart is said to have ghost-written for Michael Haydn, who was having difficulty fulfilling his contract with Mozart’s former employer, the Archbishop Colloredo.

Gauthier and Devroye played their parts with markedly different styles: Devroye played with an even and smooth tone, but very straightforwardly, with minimal inflection; Gauthier, on the other hand, took advantage of all the opportunities to season her part with pinpointed accents, dynamic contrasts, and subtle changes of articulation. The contrast between their approaches worked best at the moments when each had a distinct line to play, as is the case for most of the second movement. But in those portions of the outer movements in which they had to pass the same melody between them, Gauthier’s playfulness and Devroye’s sobriety felt mismatched.

Gabriel Fauré’s La bonne chanson was heard in the infrequently programmed arrangement for voice, piano, and string quintet. In her spoken introduction before the piece, mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley noted that the lovestruck Fauré chose only the happiest of Verlaine’s poems to set, and that the resulting songs are as sunny as the day’s weather in Chicago

Yet her expressive interpretation belied this characterization. She sang with a heavy vibrato, with strong high notes and lovingly phrased legato, all of which underlined the work’s inherent quality of aching melancholy. Pianist Jeannie Yu and the string quintet (violinists Gauthier and Sheila Hanford, violist Devoye, cellist Barbara Haffner, and bassist Collins Trier) captured all of Fauré’s sudden changes of mood deftly, albeit with a darker string tone and less transparency than one tends to hear in this music.

The one flaw in the otherwise informative and engaging program notes was that the texts for the Faure songs were provided only in their English translations, which made it harder for those who don’t speak French to follow along and appreciate the marriage between Verlaine’s text and Fauré’s music.

Michael Lewanski replaced the scheduled Ryan Nelson as the conductor for the final work of the evening, John Adams’ Shaker Loops. In his introduction, Lewanski talked about the work’s structure and expressed his deep enthusiasm for the piece, which was palpable in the ensuing string septet performance, the clear highlight of the evening. (Violinist Teresa Fream and cellist Judy Stone joined their Rembrandt colleagues.)

Like many Minimalist pieces, Shaker Loops relies on the performers’ ability to fashion a coherent sequence of musical events out of what (in lesser hands) can sound like mere mechanistic repetition. It was precisely this sort of clarity in shaping the emotional narrative that made the Rembrandt Chamber Players’ performance so successful. There was a tense concentration in the performance with the individual string players pouncing on their cues, and the sheer physical excitement of their playing transferred from the players to the audience.

With such admirable performances, it’s unfortunate that Wednesday’s concert in Hyde Park was so sparsely attended. Hopefully, Thursday night’s repeat will draw the bigger audience this ensemble deserves.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston.

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