Chamber Players connect to classics

The Williams Chamber Players warmed up a chilly mid-October night last Saturday with their performance of The French Connection. Thompson Memorial Chapel lent its coziness to the night, enhancing the small-setting nature of chamber music. The concert featured a wide range of classical music: an excerpt from the opera Pelléas et Méllisande, a bassoon quartet, French horns, harp and percussion, a string trio and an organ solo.

Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy opened the concert. The piano interlude welcomed the audience to the mystery of a forest, where Mélisande and Golaud encountered one another by chance. Just when the audience was almost ready to slip into a relaxed state of mind, filled with the passion of the piano, the warmth of voice instructor Keith Kibler’s voice pulled them back to the storyline of the opera. If his bass-baritone transmitted the pride of the Prince of Allemonde, voice instructor Erin Casey’s soprano conveyed the fragility of Mélisande. Engaging and inspiring, the singers walked their audience smoothly through the scene with curiosity in the beginning, tension at its climax and lingering comfort when they reached its resolution. The piano accompaniment, played by Noah Lindquist ’08 and integrated perfectly with the singing, expressed precisely the emotions intended for the characters. The lyrics were in French, but the singers’ tempo and pitch transferred the meaning of the excerpt. “We have tried always to sing the scene as sharply as possible,” Kibler said, and their goal was wonderfully accomplished.

The first performance was so successful that the audience brought themselves to the next one, The Beauty of the Rose Is in Its Passing by Paul Chihara, with an expectation too high to be quite satisfied. The piece was performed by Stephen Walt on bassoon, Orlando Pandolfi and Colleen Shaffer on French horn, Elizabeth Morse on harp and Matthew Gold on percussion. Chihara designed the song as a “series of fragmented arching melodies and transparent textures.” Percussion was too striking to be mixed with gloomy bassoon, and harp was too fairy-like to be accompanied by typical French horns. The piece ended without warning, leaving an impression of uncertainty.

Harmony was brought back into the air by Joanna Genova on violin, Ronald Feldman on cello and Scott Woolweaver on viola, with String Trio by Jean Françaix. The work was in four movements, all of which combined to generate a lively atmosphere filled with the happy talk of the three sibling instruments. The conversation fluctuated from fascinated staccato to calm allegro, swinging the mood of the audience back and forth along with the music. The performers wore an easy-going manner, manipulating their instruments as if they were playing with simple toys that had the ability to create beautiful music on their own. After a brief interlude with violin as the leading instrument, the piece quickly ended, but its effect was strong enough to elicit some laughter of pleasant surprise from the audience. Lia McInerney ’12, one of the audience members that night, left the room during intermission still humming the joyful tune of String Trio.

Edwin Lawrence’s performance of L’Ascension by Olivier Messiaen dominated the rest of the concert with the splendor of organ. As he introduced it before he dived into the music, the position of the pipes makes the music seem to be “dancing – around the room.” The pipes started the piece by calling out to each other from across the hall before their voice intertwined, impressing the audience with their majesty. After its triumphant beginning, the organ switched to a softer, lingering manner that managed to deliver its music off of the stage and into the audience. It was interesting to see most of the audience spent the rest of the concert with their eyes closed, either to let their soul communicate with the music, or to enjoy a nice nap. L’Ascension came to an end without the audience realizing it. Overall, the concert as a whole was satisfactory for a relaxing Saturday night.