The Apple Hill Chamber Players--various musicians who since 1973 have performed and taught chamber music through an amalgam of concerts, residencies and scholarships designed to further world peace--were configured as a piano quintet Friday evening at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.
Their program blended a repertory staple (Schubert's "Trout" Quintet) with a new arrangement by Roland Kato of Ravel's "Mother Goose" Suite, and two "speech-inflected" works by contemporary composer Jon Deak: "Eeyore Has a Birthday" and "Lady Chatterley's Dream."
The Ravel transcription rather surprisingly caught the subtleties of the composer's sparely tinted orchestral brush strokes and poetic, watercolor depictions of five fairy tales. These are miniature bedtime stories for adults. Their reduction from full orchestra to five players required the quintet to explore unfamiliar registers without breaking the fragility of Ravel's inventions, which was sensitively accomplished.
Deak's compositions experimented with more literal storytelling: speaking A.A. Milne's lines from "Winnie-the-Pooh" and D.H. Lawrence's from "Lady Chatterley's Lover," and simultaneously overlaying speech with musical comment. Deak's careful attention to the natural rhythm of prose sustained a whimsical, wacky charm in the little Pooh skit for much of its length (the charm eventually waned). The three Lawrence scenes, punctuated with sighs and heavy breathing, had a bizarre physicality that took some getting used to, but the characterizations--particularly the suppurating ugliness of the husband's confrontation with his unfaithful wife--were stark and convincing.
The "Trout" Quintet flowed sensitively but floundered here and there from recurrent intonation problems.