In the house that Philip Johnson built for the Kreegers on Foxhall Road NW, the acoustic of the Great Room can be like a whispering gallery, carrying distant sounds through its stone arches to one’s ears. The room was designed for musical performance, and on Friday night the Kreeger Museum opened the seventh installment of its June Chamber Festival there. The regular guests, violist Miles Hoffman and the American Chamber Players, generally have their ups and downs in terms of technical polish, although ingenuity of programming is always a point in their favor. This time, it was not enough.
Standout performances came from the usual suspects, flutist Sara Stern and pianist Anna Stoytcheva, heard together in three lovely romances by Schumann. Originally composed for oboe, the solo part sat rather low for flute, but Stoytcheva, ever sensitive to her partner, did a fine job of resizing the piano part to fit the quieter instrument. Stoytcheva also held her own at the center of Beethoven’s Op. 16 quartet for piano and strings, rearranged by the composer from his own quintet for piano and winds. Stoytcheva dispatched the demanding piano part with grace and force in a performance that had every reason to make the Bulgarian ambassador, who was in the audience, proud of the Bulgarian-born pianist.
Nerves may have affected the group’s new cellist, who seemed to lose his place and bungled a couple of entrances, marring two of the more interesting pieces by Paris Opera flutist and conductor Philippe Gaubert and Soviet composer Boris Tchaikovsky (no relation to the more famous composer of that name). Hoffman had no business programming Johan Halvorsen’s passacaglia, adapted from Handel, if he and his violinist were not able to handle all of the work’s grab bag of virtuosic tricks. At the very least, they should have skipped the variations that demanded harmonics and spiccato playing.
The performances will hopefully be more consistent at the remaining concerts of the June Chamber Festival on June 14 and 17.
Downey is a freelance writer.