The Kennedy Center Chamber Players, composed of principal musicians from the National Symphony Orchestra, have many advantages. One of the most important is that they can, without much fuss, perform rarely heard pieces from the extended chamber music repertoire. Such was the focus of the group’s final concert of the season, heard on Sunday evening in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.
Joseph Rheinberger’s “Nonet in E-flat Major” concluded the program, a broad-shouldered work at the edge between chamber ensemble and chamber symphony. It is music more competently beautiful than innovative, since Rheinberger mostly uses all nine instruments all the time, instead of playing with usual combinations of the strings, winds and horn. In this room-filling performance, Laurel Bennert Ohlson’s horn was the strong foundation of loud textures, and oboist Jamie Roberts, the only assistant principal player in the bunch, contributed poignant solos. The bassoon of Sue Heineman was featured to pleasing effect in the trio of the jaunty Minuetto movement.
On the first half was Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s ingenious arrangement of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” for string trio. The contrapuntal voices were easily distinguished when given to individual instruments, and the more lyrical variations, especially those in the minor mode, played to the strengths of the expressive strings. Violinist Marissa Regni was especially strong, riding atop the full textures and always on the mark, while never dominating her colleagues. The decision to play with gut strings was perhaps odd, a concession to historically informed performance practice in the realization of an anachronistic transcription. Tuning and articulation issues aside, though, it helped the trio create an unexpected sound world that was alluring in this intimate venue.
Downey is a freelance writer.