The clarinet seems to do something to composers. Moving through a substantial program on Sunday afternoon at the Lyceum in Alexandria, the Ensemble da Camera of Washington demonstrated that it was not just immortals like Mozart and Brahms who fell under the spell of the instrument's ethereal sound.
Robert Schumann's "Fairy Tales" for clarinet, viola and piano, Op. 132, are not so much representations of medieval myths as purely musical flights of fantasy. The Ensemble da Camera rendered the four movements with keen musicianship and a sense of freedom, moving effortlessly between the adamant and the more melodic figures. Claire Eichhorn's clarinet shadowed the melancholic viola of Ricardo Cyncynates one second, tracing a lone, colorful arc the next. In the tender slow movement, the two floated on the delicate harmonies created by pianist Anna Balakerskaia.
The trio brought subtlety and refinement to Max Bruch's Eight Pieces, Op. 83. Even in some of the soaring climaxes of the outer movements, the group maintained a nice balance that highlighted the flowing, wide textures of this concert rarity. Playing of such proportion and restraint actually increased the force with which the piece landed. The concert opened with nicely done accounts of the Clarinet Sonata, Op. 167, of Camille Saint-Saens and Maurice Ravel's Violin Sonata in A Minor.
-- Daniel Ginsberg