Williams Chamber Players capture audience with bohemian rhapsodies

While most concerts at the College showcase the talents of either students or special guests, the Williams Chamber Players’ concert Friday night provided the music department faculty an opportunity to claim the spotlight. The program supposedly centered on a bohemian theme, though only two of the pieces were written by Czech composers, and featured a diverse array of ensembles consisting of voice and strings.
The concert opened with the song “In Guilty Night” from English Baroque composer Henry Purcell’s Harmonia Sacra, featuring soprano Kerry Ryer-Parke, bass-baritone Keith Kibler and mezzo-soprano Augusta Caso ’09. The song tells the Biblical story of Saul convincing the Witch of Endor to summon up the prophet Samuel to predict his fate. The drama of the scene was accentuated by the singers’ intense dynamics and facial expressions. The delicate cello and harpsichord accompaniment provided an appropriately subtle support for the singers.

Caso seemed uncomfortable with the low range of Saul’s part, and Ryer-Parke and Kibler often overshadowed her in terms of projection. Ryer-Parke, as the Witch of Endor, exhibited a pleasant purity of sound, but Kibler stole the show with his powerful and wonderfully rich bass tones.

The next slot on the program featured a piece by the College’s own Professor Ileana Perez-Velazquez, Wild Wisteria, for viola and harp. The two parts weaved in and out of each other’s lines; one part followed the other into new harmonies, producing some confusing sequences and some moments of beauty.

The combination of viola and harp, while a unique choice, did not produce the smoothest blend. The harp produced a beautifully resonant sound, but the viola’s texture sounded thin by comparison; when the viola part finished phrases on its own, the sound was particularly weak. The duo was at its strongest in the agitated sections of the piece, in which violist Scott Woolweaver seemed much more at ease compared to the slower, lyrical sections.

Woolweaver greatly redeemed his performance of Wild Wisteria with his more enthusiastic delivery of the following duet with violinist Joana Genova in Bohuslav Martinu’s Three Madrigals. The two not only executed a high level of technical precision, but also seemed to enjoy themselves, frequently looking up out of their music and smiling.

In the first movement, they frequently shared the musical line with an impressive back-and-forth dialogue that constantly propelled itself forward. In contrast with the first movement’s playful character, the second movement had a more nostalgic mood, characterized by a distinction between sections of buzzing tremolos and simpler, yearning melodies. The final movement combined the two ideas of frivolity and lyricism, featuring a jolly, country dance-like tune made modern with unexpected harmonies and variations.

The last ensemble, performing Bedrich Smetana’s Trio in G Minor, opus 15, won the prize for best-dressed, consisting of violinist Joanna Kurkowicz in a dramatic purple sleeveless gown, pianist Doris Stevenson in a layered black dress and guest cellist Yehuda Hanani in a sharp black suit. Their performance was equally engaging, displaying some virtuosic solo work and tight ensemble skills.

The piece itself was schizophrenic in character, including arrestingly dramatic lines, gushing Romantic solos and quirky folk melodies. Smetana, a 19th-century Czech composer, was certainly grounded in a Romantic sensibility, but showed some forethought into 20th-century dissonant sounds.

The ensemble’s greatest success was its sense of articulation and rhythm, producing crisply separated dotted rhythms in the first movement, a swaying gypsy theme in the second and a brilliantly intricate frenzy of sound in the third. They also managed to create a smooth blend of sound while each player preserved his or her own voice as a soloist; Kurkowicz’s bright lines were distinct from Hanani’s darker, rich timbre and Stevenson’s refined sound. Their energetic performance capped off an impressive display by the faculty, inspiring students and community members alike.