Review: Richmond Chamber Players

Aug. 5, River Road Church, Baptist

Relocated from Bon Air Presbyterian Church while its sanctuary is being renovated, the Richmond Chamber Players face an acoustical challenge in this summer’s venue, River Road Church, Baptist, whose large, highly resonant sanctuary effectively amplifies higher-volume musical passages and higher-register instruments.

Those qualities made the first work in the series’ opening concert, Igor Stravinsky’s suite from his theater piece “L’histoire du soldat” (“The Soldier’s Tale”), project more loudly and with brighter, more primary sound colors than its instrumentation, for violin, clarinet and piano, normally produces.

Susy Yim’s violin, especially in the piece’s numerous double-stopped passages, overbalanced David Lemelin’s clarinet, while the piano, played by John Walter, added more sonic bulk than detail. Yim reveled in the elaborate, virtuosic “The Soldier’s Violin;” the three musicians were at their collaborative best in the suite’s central “Tango, Waltz, Ragtime” dance sequence, playing up the Hungarian flavor with which Stravinsky spiced his waltz tune.

The space’s acoustics were perhaps even more challenging for clarinetist Lemelin, flutist Mary Boodell and bassoonist Thomas Schneider in Allan Blank’s “Introduction and Three Episodes.” The Richmond-based composer, who died in 2013, wrote extensively and fluently for wind instruments, exploiting their individual and collective tone colors in a style that employed the tonal languages of the French impressionists and Béla Bartók to create a lyrical but emotionally haunted music.

Blank’s musical ghosts thrive in sound environments that bring out subtleties of timbre and subtle gradations of volume. This space did not, despite the best efforts of the three players.

The program’s most successful performance turned out to be Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major, K. 285, played by flutist Boodell, violinist Kim, violist Stephen Schmidt and cellist Neal Cary.

Boodell played a metal flute with a wooden head, a configuration whose softer tone approximated the sound of flutes of Mozart’s time and more effectively blended with string tones than a fully modern flute would, without yielding the wind instrument’s clearly leading role in the piece.

This quartet is a more virtuosic showcase for the flute than any of three concertos that Mozart wrote for instrument, especially in its opening allegro; and its central adagio, which sounds like an aria from a Gluck opera, is perhaps the finest lyrical showcase for the flute that the composer ever wrote.

Boodell, ably supported by the trio of string musicians, played with technical assurance, animation and, in the adagio, chaste soulfulness.

The Richmond Chamber Players’ Interlude 2018 series continues with concerts at 3 p.m. Aug. 12, 19 and 26 at River Road Church, Baptist, River and Ridge roads. Tickets: $25. Details: http://www.richmondchamberplayers.org

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