Rembrandt Chamber Players open 25th season with eclectic program

Mon Sep 29, 2014 at 10:27 am

By Gerald Fisher

poser-harmonica player Howard Levy teamed up with the Rembrandt Chamber Players for their 25th season opener Sunday in Evanston.
Composer-harmonicist Howard Levy teamed up with the Rembrandt Chamber Players to open their 25th season Sunday in Evanston.

The Rembrandt Chamber Players opened their 25th season at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston with the legendary Chicago-based jazz musician, Howard Levy, in a diverse classical program.

The local premiere of Levy’s Sonata for Oboe was the program opener and it proved a minor-keyed, traditionally melodic Classical work in three related movements. The piece was written for RCP member Robert Morgan, who was supported by pianist Jeannie Yu in an almost equal partnership.

The music is full of forward energy and both instrumentalists are active throughout the first movement, the oboe singing romantically over piano riffs and runs.

The second movement begins melodically in the piano and continues reflectively in duetted passages, trending downward in the songful oboe and ending in a cadenza that merges into a quite different and jazzier third movement. Brazilian jazz and Latin rhythms dominate the final movement, which is traditionally upbeat. Both musicians were in fine form as a team and individually.

Levy was featured as a performer in the second half of the program playing multiple harmonicas in his own transcription of Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances for harmonica, violin, viola, cello and bass. The pieces were virtuosic and rhythmically dynamic and Levy and the ensemble played them with great style and verve. The harmonica, oddly, did not seem alien to the music but ended sounding like a traditional folk instrument itself.

The Rembrandts usually program a traditionally classical work alongside more unusual pieces, and this concert’s chestnut was the Mozart Flute Quartet K.285, which was served up in worthy style, if without quite the last bit of brio, by flutist Sandra Morgan, violinist Renée-Paule Gauthier, violist Carol Cook, and cellist Barbara Haffner.

The Vaughan Williams Piano Quintet has been belatedly making its way into the repertoire, and it is an excellent showpiece in many ways. Although it hardly sounds like the later Vaughan Williams until the last movement, it is a strong piece by a great composer and, at Sunday afternoon’s concert proved an audience pleaser.

The quintet opens grandly and darkly with great power in the lower strings due to the addition of a double bass. Bassist Collins Trier and cellist Haffner provided heft and tonality to the rich ensemble sound. The piece is a real workout for piano and string ensemble and the pianist Jeannie Hu was outstanding.

The third movement begins starkly as variations on a theme and expands romantically into proto-pastoral territory. This is followed by dramatics and a nervous tension, which gives way to a very English march section. The piece ends somewhat anticlimactically but resolutely on the downbeat.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Driehaus Museum.

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