By WYNNE DELACOMA
Chicago Classical Review
The Rembrandt Chamber Players have been a lively, gifted ensemble since their first concert 21 seasons ago. Formed by some of Chicago’s leading musicians, they manage to find the sweet musical spot between the familiar and the unusual.
The sense of discovery was high at Sunday night’s concert in Evanston’s intimate, club-like S.P.A.C.E. (The concert will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Monday in a vastly different space, the Driehaus Museum, a renovated Gilded Age mansion in downtown Chicago.) Granted, the composers—Prokofiev, Gabriel Pierne and Ernst von Dohnanyi—were hardly obscure, and the pieces, though composed between 1923 and 1935, were solidly in the 19th century’s Romantic-era style.
But the works weren’t familiar warhorses, and best of all, the program’s opening and closing pieces—Prokofiev’s zesty Quintet for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and bass and Dohnanyi’s grandly sweeping Sextet in C Major, Opus 37, for violin, viola, cello, piano, clarinet and horn—called for unusual instrumentation. Rembrandt’s players are masterful collaborators, and the addition of guest artists J. Lawrie Bloom, clarinet; Jonathan Boen, French horn and Robert Chase, viola, seemed to heighten the excitement. In the final pages of the Dohnanyi, the exhilarated players raced ahead at top speed, full of smiles. Rarely has playing chamber music seemed to be so much fun.
Dohnanyi’s Sextet was a revelation, full of sumptuously shaded dark moods, yet ending with an atmosphere of giddy high spirits. The music was densely textured for the most part, and the performance was extremely cohesive, driven by a noble, sweeping lyricism. But when the texture became more transparent, we were aware of the sheer beauty of the musicians’ individual sound: Boen’s golden, commanding horn; Alan Chow’s sparkling piano, Barbara Haffner’s soulful cello, Bloom’s smoky clarinet, the mercurial urgency of violinist Yuan Qing-Yu and violist Roger Chase.
Prokofiev’s quintet, with oboist Robert Morgan and Collins Trier on double bass joining Bloom, Yu and Chase, was also full of expertly woven layers. There were momentary outbursts of bluesy klezmer music and madcap, circus-like rhythms, but an intriguing hint of menace ran through all six movements.
In Pierne’s Sonata da Camera for flute, cello and piano, Sandra Morgan’s flute was occasionally overpowered by Haffner’s cello and Chow’s piano. But the sense of Baroque-style elegance was clearly etched.
The concert opened with a performance by the winners of Rembrandt’s 16th annual high school chamber music competition: the Bone Rangers, a trombone quartet based at the Merit School of Music. The young players–Jake Mezera, Doug Meng, Royce Marrington-Turner and Tanner Jackson—sounded poised and attentive to each other. Despite the venue’s small size and brick walls, the quartet never sounded harsh in the short-breathed phrases and abruptly shifting moods of Gary Carpenter’s Secret Love Songs, movements IV and V.