Review: Richmond Chamber Players

Aug. 25, Bon Air Presbyterian Church

The best music for piano and string quartet strikes an ideal balance between intimacy and scale. It’s compact enough to be heard up close and in detail, but populated enough to accommodate the layers of sound and color, the complexity of voicings, found in orchestral music.

Among the best-known piano quintets, Brahms’ F minor, Op. 34, and Franck’s have their great attributes and many admirers, but Dvořák’s A major, Op. 81, is both great and lovable. It earns almost universal affection because it shows off the composer’s gift for creating memorable tunes and exploiting infectious folk-dance rhythms as well as any work he ever wrote.

The Richmond Chamber Players closed out their Interlude 2019 series with the Dvořák quintet in a performance that started out raw and loud but happily developed more lyricism and lilt as it progressed.

Pianist John Walter, violinists Catherine Cary and Susanna Klein, violist Stephen Schmidt and cellist Neal Cary (Klein substituting on late notice for Susy Yim, out with an injured finger) treated Dvořák’s melodies with warmth and phrasing that was expansive but not quite indulgently so. The cellist and violist were especially adept at achieving that balance. Walter was the ensemble’s rhythmic driver, a most effective one once he moderated the high volume projected in the opening movement.

A similar apportionment of energies and voicings, on a smaller scale, came through in a performance of Beethoven’s Sonata in C major, Op. 102, No. 1, for piano and cello, played by pianist Daniel Stipe and cellist Emma Cary.

Cary, daughter of the violinist and cellist, giving a last local performance before heading off to college, played her part with warm, rich tone when the cello is the leading voice and acute attention to rhythmic detail when the instrument is accompanying the piano or seconding its musical gestures. Stipe was both a supportive partner and an assertive but not over-dominant leader in this reading.

Between the Beethoven and Dvořák, oboist David Garcia, clarinetist David Lemelin and bassoonist Thomas Schneider played the Trio for their instruments by the short-lived, Czech-born composer Vítězslava Kaprálová. (It’s more accurate to say the piece was conceived and begun by Kaprálová; this finished product was assembled from a partial score, sketches and material from other works by the oboist Stéphane Egeling in 2011, more than 50 years after Kaprálová’s death.)

Kaprálová began her trio in the late 1930s, when she had settled in France, and the piece belongs to the large body of modern French literature for wind ensemble, nearly all of it in the neoclassical style pioneered by Stravinsky, with an overlay of cheeky Parisian urbanity. That was the stance adopted winningly by Garcia, Lemelin and Schneider.

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