Kennedy Center Chamber Players fill musical menu with delicious instrumentation

April 2, 2012

There was Stravinsky being Stravinsky, Christian Sinding being a romantic throwback and both Saint-Saens and Martinu trying on a variety of hats in the program the Kennedy Center Chamber Players brought to the Terrace Theater on Sunday.

In the course of the afternoon, 10 instrumentalists appeared in different combinations with pianist Lisa Emenheiser anchoring everything with splendid authority.

Martinu, whose output is uneven and can be stodgy, was represented by the anything-but-stodgy sextet “La Revue de Cuisine” (“The Kitchen Revue”), a suite of jazz-influenced pieces from music he wrote for an absurd ballet about the love affair between a pot and a pot lid. Opening with Steven Hendrickson’s attention-getting trumpet call, the movements offer exaggerated sketches of a sultry (and polytonal) tango, a Charleston that wanders all over the harmonic landscape and a march, multi-rhythmic but determined. Hendrickson, Emenheiser, violinist Nurit Bar-Josef, cellist David Hardy, bassoonist Sue Heineman and clarinetist Loren Kitt plunged into the spoof with just the sense of abandon it needed.

Amid everything that was going on musically at the beginning of the 20th century, Sinding wrote his Serenade in A, Op. 92 for Two Violins and Piano as a paean to the romantic past. For a half-hour, the two violins circle each other without a lot of evident direction. Even though Bar-Josef and violinist Marissa Regni dug in with huge, gorgeous gutsy sounds and wallowed in the work’s melancholy, it was still more interesting as a technical challenge than as a piece of music.

The Saint-Saens Septet Op. 65, a big trumpet piece, dramatic if somewhat awkward in its fusion of baroque structures and martial outlines, got a confident and crisp reading. But the Stravinsky Septet was the program’s highlight. With careful instrumental balances, almost no string vibrato and a sense of inevitable momentum, his contrapuntal textures and rhythmic asymmetries emerged irresistibly in this beautifully honed performance.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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