Music Director John Kennedy crafted an intriguing and satisfying program of three 20th-century pieces for the Chamber Players of Los Angeles’ Feb. 20 concert at the Church of the Master on the Westside. Carl Nielsen’s iconic Wind Quintet, Op. 43 was the main course, with Jaques Ibert’s popular Wind Trio as the opening work. Steven Alan Fox’s “Three Miniatures for Three” for clarinet, bassoon and violin was written just before the new century, but was premiered at this concert.
The ensemble draws its cast from the principal echelons of prominent local symphony and chamber groups. This concert featured Emily Senchuk (flute), Dana Sundene (oboe), Lisa Kohorn (clarinet), Sam Childers (bassoon), Emily Reppun (French horn), and Larry Kohorn (violin). The members regularly perform together in various organizations, so the comfort level is high and the cohesion among them is evident.
I spoke with Fox (the Music Director of the Golden State Pops Orchestra, who also has an extensive film scoring career) about his music before the concert. He was excited to hear his early work after a 12-year delay. He said that the work captures his musical development as a young artist trying to reconcile the compositional constraints imposed on him as a student against the freedom he craved to express; in the process he found his own voice. Somewhat expressionist in nature, “Three Miniatures for Three” presents first as loosely atonal, then through the drama of an anxious clarinet (played marvelously by Lisa Kohorn) the rules are cast aside, and the music waxes tonal, robust and happy. The surprise ending was delightful. We can all share in that metaphor.
The second movement of Fox’s work gave Long Beach native Larry Kohorn the opportunity to show the depth of his skill. At times his violin blended seamlessly with the winds, but he could also distance himself as a soloist. His range of tone and technique was a joy to hear, and his obvious energy and love of music transmit in his persona and sound on stage.
The primary work on the program was Nielsen’s 1922 Wind Quintet, one of his major works that has become a standard of the repertoire. The group gave an accurate, characteristically Nielsen performance through and through, successfully integrating his modern and neoclassical manners, all the while sporting his widely appealing tunefulness. The musicians masterfully exploited the timbral qualities of their individual instruments to create the unique tonal palettes that Nielsen loved to use.
The ensemble clearly understood Nielsen. The distinctive “chirping” canon theme of the first movement was inspired, and the lyrical second theme was introduced beautifully by Reppun’s horn. Her control of the instrument and musicality were exceptional; her tone was bright and clear and wed well with the woodwinds. The interwoven triplet figures of Senchuk and Kohorn blended beautifully to create a smooth textural quality.
The third movement is the heart of this quintet, based on Nielsen’s original setting of the Lutheran hymn, “My Jesus make my heart to love thee.” Sundene was rich and affective in her English horn melody. Senchuk and Kohorn also shined individually with the fine, unaccompanied, fully saturated colors of their instruments. Senchuk and her flute capably took the lead in the chorale, to be followed by Sundene who artfully found the soul of her English horn in its highest register.
The eleven Variations brought out some of the best in the musicians. Childers’ bassoon was the sole accompaniment for Kohorn’s expressive clarinet tour de force. Sundene’s moving interpretation in the third variation seemed to empathize with the ambiguities of Nielsen’s chromaticism, but in the high-flying eighth we heard her deftly navigating the upper extremes of her instrument in sort of a dark waltz over open fifths. Reppun’s horn brought a clean lightness to the ninth variation with her solo, and again in the tenth in duo with the flute. Childers’ soliloquy for solo bassoon again had undeniable feeling. The full ensemble emerged energetic in several vignettes — a lively and playful scherzando in the fourth, and again in Alla marcia, the final variation.
The opening piece on the program was Jaques Ibert’s Cinq Pieces en Trio. Senchuk and Sundene breathed life into the expression of the Andantino, and the lyrical oboe melody of the Andante was beautiful. The Allegro quasi marziale swept the audience along with its compelling rhythm, helped along by the ensemble’s cadences that were perfectly coordinated to harness the fanciful fits of the finale.
The reverberation was somewhat on the soupy side of the scale due to the relatively small volume and high ceilings of the space. At times the room created a wonderful sonorous blend, but otherwise the blurry acoustic dampened dynamic potential and defused the crispness of the winds. The small transepts diverted energy from the most forward players, the flute in particular.
The Chamber Players of Los Angeles beams as another outstanding example of the quality in our local chamber music scene. Kennedy has found a niche. Future programs this season include music from “Kismet” and “The Threepenny Opera” in May, and Franz Schubert’s Octet in June. Visit www.chamberplayerslosangeles.com.