Amidst the excitement of the start of the weekend, classical music enthusiasts found a sanctuary at Brooks-Rogers in the Bernhard Music Center. There, the Williams Chamber Players entertained a full house of local residents and College students with an eclectic mix of musical pieces. The program traversed a timeline of musical eras and gave the audience a mixed sampling of various composers. While the concert featured some familiar pieces, it also introduced listeners to several unique, little-known compositions from the past.
The concert began with pieces from the Renaissance performed by Nathan Botts, the artist associate in trumpet and director of the Williams College Brass Ensemble, on the cornetto and Edwin Lawrence, instructor in music, on the harpsichord. Prior to performing, both musicians introduced their pieces and their instruments, neither of which are frequently seen or heard on stage.
Though the sound of the Renaissance instruments seemed odd to the modern ear, Botts and Lawrence truly showcased their skill and talent on their respective instruments. Botts effortlessly demonstrated the versatility of the cornetto with smooth and fluid runs, while Lawrence’s subtle, but effective body language helped to phrase the piece. Music from the Renaissance was a special treat, regardless of whether the pieces were to one’s liking.
The concert proceeded with a gorgeous three-movement trio by French impressionist composer C. Debussy performed by Ceora Jaffe on flute, Ah Ling Neu, artist associate in viola, on viola and Elizabeth Morse, harpist of the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra and artist associate in harp, on harp. The piece contrasted with the Renaissance style. Debussy’s trio was packed full of complex emotions and layers, and the music truly evoked images of pastoral scenes, tranquil landscapes and nature. The trio of flute, viola and harp was a breathtaking combination. The instruments all had different tones, but when played together, their sounds bled into each other to create a musical masterpiece. Jaffe, Morse and Neu made an incredible ensemble. They were all fully committed to the piece. Jaffe and Morse were clearly masters of their instruments. However, Neu truly stood out in the ensemble, playing the viola like a dance with balletic and graceful movements.
The evening then switched pace with songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s prominent musicals. Soprano Studio Instructor in Voice Erin Nafziger and bass-baritone Artist Associate in Voice Keith Kibler (accompanied by Artist in Residence Doris Stevenson on piano) serenaded the audience with uplifting, classic tunes from State Fair, Pipe Dream, Carousel and Oklahoma. The vocal selections featured a mixture of duets and solos. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s songs helped to change the mood of the evening and engaged the audience. It was not hard to smile at Nafziger and Kibler’s charming rendition of “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” from State Fair.
Nafziger and Kibler both had amazing voices and great stage presence. Nafziger had a sweet voice that captivated the audience every time she sang. The audience was mesmerized when she sang the heart wrenching classic “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel. Nafziger also shone when she sang “Mister Snow” from Carousel, becoming the character of Carrie Pipperidge in her interpretation. Kibler also had an excellent set of pipes. His voice projected extremely well in the small auditorium. He sang with enthusiasm and power, throwing intense energy into each piece. However, while at times his passion worked for heartfelt songs like “If I Loved You” from Carousel, it was occasionally too much for lighter songs like “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein medley was the perfect finale to the first half of the concert. After a short intermission, the concert resumed with J. Brahms’s Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor performed by Joanna Kurkowicz, artist in residence, on violin; Neu on viola; Ronald Feldman, artist in residence, lecturer in music, chamber music coordinator and conductor of the Berskire Symphony, on cello; and Doris Stevenson, artist in residence, on piano. The ensemble quickly introduced their piece and gave a short biography of Brahms’s life. This helped to set the mood for the following quartet. True to other works by Brahms, this quartet was rich and oversaturated with different melodies. At times, the piece was almost too intense. Still, it managed to highlight each instrument with a short solo.
Neu, Feldman and Stevenson gave the piece their all and shone in their individual solos. Kurkowicz was immersed in the piece. She became part of the music, and her passion was contagious. The musicians interacted well. They fed off each other’s energy and performed better and better as the piece progressed. With each movement, the musicians seemed to draw the audience deeper and deeper into the piece, ending with an unbelievable finale to conclude the quartet.
The transitions between groups were at times very slow, which left the audience a bit restless. Constant chatter also disrupted the flow and ambiance of the concert. Nevertheless, the performances were enjoyable.
Music enthusiasts and first-time listeners could be satisfied by the concert presented by the Chamber Players.