Not wishing to release his secrets easily, Brahms delights in cultivating complex thickets of sound. Even the most capable performers can be confounded, as the Romantic Chamber Ensemble discovered in its all-Brahms evening at Baird Auditorium last night. Despite impressive strengths, the group failed to penetrate the composer's inmost territory.
If there was any single cause, it may have been an excess of power, particularly from pianist Lambert Orkis. His commanding technique and relentless rhythmic drive, most evident in the F-Minor Piano Quintet played with the Emerson Quartet, generated a feverish excitement but frequently deprived the music of the breathing space necessary for expansion.
The program's most expressive turn came in the middle of the "Neue Liebeslieder Walzer." With a vibrant alto sound and surely focused intensity Adell Nicholson transformed her solo, "Wahe, wahre deinen Sohn," into an incandescent moment. Bass Thomas Beveridge also contributed some well-shaped lines. Tenor Robert Guarino and soprano Lucy Shelton, despite a somewhat strident vocal color, ably rounded out the quartet, which was given a sprited accompaniment by Orkis and pianist Heidi Upton. Clarinetist Lren Kitt found some fluid phrasing through no exceptional exchanges in the opening A-Minor Clarinet Trio.