Local Depth and Flair in Chamber Concert

From the Philadelphia Inquirer

October 1, 2001

By Daniel Webster 


The Philadelphia Orchestra alone once embodied music in the city, but in the last 25 years smaller groups have burgeoned and spread until, by numbers of performers and performances, chamber music presents at least as robust and complete a profile of music in the city.

That was the premise of the opening concert in the Astral Concerts for All Seasons series Friday at the Trinity Center. From its first two-concert season in 1994, Astral Artistic Services continues promoting young musicians while expanding to 10 Center City concerts, five in Hatboro, three in Chestnut Hill, and smaller events in retirement communities.

For this event, two regularly constituted instrumental groups, Concordia Chamber Players and Lenape Chamber Players; the Philadelphia Singers; and an ad-hoc trio of Astral performers played works that did not try for a cohesive musical statement, but stressed the depth and flair of local players.

Many of the instrumentalists are known as soloists and recitalists, yet in this setting they proved sensitive to one another’s intuitions and quick to meet a new shading or musical suggestion. These were the qualities that made the Concordia performance of Faure’s Piano Quartet No. 1 such an eloquent event. The score calls for unusual sonic variety and colors, and these players found levels of sound and intensity to energize each movement.

Pianist Gail Niwa answered each of the string players warmly and spiritedly in this reading.

The Philadelphia Singers, a chamber ensemble of 16, performed Persichetti’s Flower Songs, settings of e.e. cummings’ poems. David Hayes led the singers in finely tuned readings that illuminated the composer’s insights into the poems.

The Lenape ensemble – Marcantonio Barone, piano; Igor Begelman, clarinet; and Jeffrey Multer, violin – found in Milhaud’s Suite gallic insouciance and rhythmic explosiveness. The interplay between violin and clarinet showed two players quick to adjust to each other’s nuance. Begelman, a performer of explosive virtuosity, sounded subdued by his own standard but was a buoyant player in this context.

Violinist Christina Castelli, cellist Clancy Newman, and pianist Andrius Zlabys, all soloists in Astral’s series, met for a vibrant reading of Arensky’s Trio No. 1. They offered individual flourishes and strongly personalized playing. Not quite the definition of chamber music, but their playing said much about what audiences have come to expect in a city of chamber musicians.

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