American Chamber Players, in Fine Form

The American Chamber Players performed at the Kreeger Museum as part of its June Chamber Festival.
The American Chamber Players performed at the Kreeger Museum as part of its June Chamber Festival. (By Michael Stewart)
Thursday, June 14, 2007

A ravishing performance of the rarely heard Quartet in B Minor for piano and strings by Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu topped a concert by the American Chamber Players at the Kreeger Museum on Tuesday, the second event in its June Chamber Festival. Lekeu left his passionate quartet unfinished at his death at 24. From the quartet's first notes, the musicians unleashed its raging anger, bows plunging deeply into its angry currents, dense textures and massive harmonies -- quite like an organist pulling out all the stops. The second movement was approached tenderly, the players caressing its quietly undulating melodiousness and muted pastels.

Dmitri Shostakovich's Four Waltzes for flute, clarinet and piano, Op. 97c, is a pleasant venture into instrumental colors with some sardonic harmonic twists, and the players probed every corner of its brilliant landscape. Flutist Sara Stern treated the piercing sonorities of her piccolo with just the right dynamics to balance with the other instruments.

You couldn't fault the suavity, glistening patina and perfect rapport of the playing in Johann Nepomuk Hummel's Quartet in E-flat for clarinet and strings or Joseph Haydn's "London" Trio No. 1 for flute, violin and cello. In the Hummel, clarinetist Loren Kitt displayed finely honed phrasing and liquid legato. But these works were simply tiresome, both written at the technical level of their composers' amateur royal patrons (the Esterhazy dynasty) or to provide them with dinner entertainment. Overshadowed by Beethoven's music, Hummel's, in fact, was passe in his lifetime. His piano concerts paled next to Paganini's virtuosity; also, he didn't get along with his employers. And, in my experience, the Haydn is more fun to play than to listen to.

Besides flutist Stern and clarinetist Kitt, the performers included violinist Joanna Maurer, violist Miles Hoffman (the festival's artistic director), cellist Alberto Parrini and pianist Anna Stoytcheva.

The final concert is tomorrow.

-- Cecelia Porter

© 2007 The Washington Post Company