Williams Chamber Players treated a capacity crowd in Brooks Rogers to an exceptional concert Friday night. The program demonstrated a variety of style, technique and instrumentation during which the performers’ verve never wavered.
First, Keith Kibler, bass-baritone vocalist, and Robert Phelps, guitarist, performed a set of four secular songs from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, starting with John Dowlands’ “His Golden Locks.” Kibler and Phelps responded to each other quite well. Phelps’ gentle accompaniment of strummed and broken chords complemented Kibler’s excellent diction.
Next, Robert Johnson’s rendition of “Come Heavy Sleep” presented a forceful tone that both performers presented with panache. Phelps then played a solo piece by Dowland, “Lady Hundson’s Puffe.” This pleasing piece sounded delicate and joyful after the previous melancholic composition. Phelps did a fine job; although slightly lacking in finesse, his ability to convey the character of the modal, folk-music-based tunes carried the message of the music adeptly.
The fourth and final piece performed by the duo, Dowland’s rendition of “Come Heavy Sleep,” seemed to be truer to the meaning of the words of the poem than Johnson’s version.Â Softer and gentler, Dowland’s musical setting of the poem provided a welcome contrast to the marked heaviness of Johnson’s piece. The two played with an expressiveness that was a joy to hear.
Following this set of short songs, Susan St. Amour and Douglas Moore strode out on stage to play twentieth century composer Walter Piston’s “Duo for Viola and Cello.” The first movement created a melodic game of tag between the two instruments. Both performers engaged the audience through the playing of their respective lines. Viola and cello seemed independent of one another at parts, only to converge for a phrase or two and then diverge from one another once again. Through the fluidly played running motives, the duo established a horizontal harmony, and ended the first movement on pizzicato chords.
The chromatic passages of the second movement lent a degree of anticipation for a resolution, and Piston furthered the interest evoked by this piece by adding a call-and-response element to the piece.Â This movement made more use of the wide ranges of the strings; the two produced a sound that lent the illusion of being fuller than just two performers. St. Amour’s viola playing sounded especially sonorous in the higher register.Â
The third and final movement involved a more classical use of counterpoint, played with just the right amount of enthusiasm to keep a constant flow of energy. Frantic sections contrasted with peaceful, flowing arco themes. Piston’s duo of overall classical sonata form ended on an inverted chord and met with thunderous applause.
Another shift back in the centuries featured violinist Ronald Gorevic, oboist Carl Jenkins, bassoonist Stephen Walt, harpsichordist Edwin Lawrence and Moore once again. This setting of Telemann’s “Quartet in D Minor” from Tafelmusik (Table-music) featured lovely interplay between the musicians.Â Cello and bassoon played similar lines, throughout the first movement; the trio in the first movement played with a beautiful, unhurried and uncluttered quality.
In the second movement, Walt executed technically daunting figures adroitly, displaying his technical and expressive command of the instrument in a quasi-cadenza near the end. The third movement used a flowing meter and paired instruments in unison octaves to display the theme. The fourth and final movement presented the audience with two quick sections and a brief, slower interlude in the middle. Although this piece demonstrated the abilities of each performer, it was Walt’s bassoon playing that made the piece phenomenal.
After a short intermission, Gorevic, St. Amour, cellist Nathaniel Parke and pianist Doris Stevenson performed a breathtaking rendition of Brahms “Quartet No. 1 in G-minor.” The four played with an incredible dynamism throughout.Â For much of the first movement, the strings functioned as one unit, and the piano as another.Â Stevenson played exceptionally well. She took the lead with authority, but also listened to the changes in the group’s dynamics, lending a unity to the performance.Â The strings were so well in synch that they sounded as though they could have been one instrument.Â
However, in the brief sections without the piano, the group did not sound as unified. Stevenson’s presence often provided the framework from which the group’s dynamism sprung.Â It was clear from the onset that this truly was her show.The second movement entailed sudden, capricious changes in mood.Â Parke evoked sonority from his cello that was unsurpassed by the others in emotive quality. The performers played the next movement passionately and brilliantly. Of all of the movements, this one sounded the most like a traditional string quartet.
The fourth and final movement, “Rondo alla Zingarese,” was the perfect energetic ending to a delightful concert. Stevenson kept the tempo and provided further support in the higher register harmonically. Occasionally, the strings reverted to pizzicato and let the piano take the lead. The whole group acted as one with tempo and dynamic changes, and the piece ended with a nearly tangible excitement in the air.
This concert displayed Williams’ own faculty and professors in their elements, and left the audience’s heads reeling with the intensity that the musicians had made so apparent and exciting that night.