American Chamber Players perform a lost treasure


The American Chamber Players perform at the Kreeger Museum. (Nora Noble Ours/Nora Noble Ours)
June 15

Rummage around in classical music’s closets, and you’re bound to find a few treasures: works by once-famous composers who have long vanished from view. Take Louise Farrenc, for instance. This 19th-century French composer rose to prominence in the male-dominated musical establishment of her time, was promptly forgotten, and left behind some superb music, including the rarely heard “Trio for flute, cello, and piano, Op. 45,” the highlight of a fine concert by the American Chamber Players at the Kreeger Museum on Friday evening.

The concert marked the opening of the Kreeger’s annual June Chamber Festival, which for 10 years — under the imaginative direction of violist Miles Hoffman — has showcased some of the area’s best musicians in an acoustically near-perfect setting. Hoffman got a shock a couple of weeks ago when scheduled pianist Anna Stoytcheva was suddenly called out of town, but Lisa Emenheiser (well known to D.C. audiences for her work with the National Symphony Orchestra) heroically stepped in, mastering a range of new works in a matter of days. It took Emenheiser a minute or two to settle into the opening work, Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 483 — a piece balanced delicately between a concerto and a string quartet — but by the middle of the Larghetto she fully owned the music and turned in thoughtful, accomplished playing all evening.

Violinist Joanna Maurer’s probing, fiercely intelligent playing (particularly in 20th-century music) has always been a high point of this festival, and she joined cellist Stephen Balderston for Bohuslav Martinu’s 1927 “Duo No. 1 for violin and cello.” Its two contrasting movements pit brooding lyricism against the propulsive rhythms of Czech folk music, and the players — sharing a clear rapport — turned in a riveting, virtuosic reading.

The four “fairy-tale pictures” of Schumann’s “Märchenbilder for Viola and Piano, Opus 113” range from robust to melancholy, and gave Hoffman a chance to display his extroverted playing. But the most intriguing — and certainly charming — work of the evening may have been Farrenc’s Trio. This 1857 work is written with a lilting, lyrical touch, and flutist Sara Stern led the ensemble in a reading steeped in romanticism and elegant drama.

The Kreeger festival continues on Tuesday and Friday, with music by Brahms, Bruch, Raimi, Mozart and others.

Brookes is a freelance writer.

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