Entertainment, Reviews

Manhattan Chamber Players Featured Two Masterpieces

by David K. Rodgers

GREENSBORO – Summer Music from Greensboro began its 2023 season with an exceptional performance by the Manhattan Chamber Players on Tuesday evening, July 18, in the Greensboro United Church of Christ.

The program featured two clarinet Quintets, each a masterpiece of the chamber music repertoire, written by Mozart and Brahms, almost exactly one hundred years apart.

Vitruvius long ago wrote that one of the fundamental aspects of architecture is “delight,” and since music is “defrosted architecture” (to reverse the popular cliche of architecture being “frozen music”), we could certainly apply the word delight to these two quintets, with their beautiful melodies, harmonious interplay of instruments, and compelling enthusiasm. And to hear them played in succession with such feeling and precision by the Manhattan Chamber players was a memorable experience.

This group from New York City is a collective of some 20 musicians who have worked together since 2015 in different combinations, depending on the piece presented. In the Greensboro concert, Katie Hyun and Siwoo Kim were on violins, Luke Fleming on viola, Andrew Janss on cello and Yasmina Spiegelberg on clarinet.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote the Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 981, in 1789, inspired by a brilliant contemporary clarinetist, Anton Stadler. It starts with an Allegro movement with an immediately engaging melody as the clarinet and the strings proceed to variations on the initial theme, then transitioning to a more dramatic mode in a slightly faster tempo, with excellent phrasing by the clarinetist and fine ensemble support. The clarinet is particularly prominent in the following Larghetto, slower with rich sonorities in the peaceful flow as the melody is developed. The Menuetto had more dance rhythms with two exquisite themes in sonata forms, notable for elegant runs up and down the scales giving full play to the unique qualities of the clarinet in its scoring. The final Allegretto con Variazoni had yet another great melody given a number of permutations enhanced by soaring passages. Spiegelberg’s musicality here was superb, for she literally and figuratively breathed the music with seamless momentum and virtuosity.

The Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115, by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was written towards the end of his life in 1891. Again an exceptional contemporary clarinetist, Richard M͍uhlfeld, motivated the composer to write several pieces for him besides the quintet, namely a trio and two sonatas, all highlighting the instrument. The opening Allegro commences with a glorious melody carefully developed, followed by a second theme as wonderful as the first, exploring the special voice of the clarinet in its warmth and depth of color. The slower tempo of the Adagio allowed for the maximum emotion in each note in an organic fusion of the five players, through the sequence of rich harmonies so characteristic of Brahms’ creative genius. The third movement, Andantino, Presto non assai, ma con Sentiment, continued with more winning melodies. This total integration to transcendental heights of beauty is as good a performance as we could wish for. The ending section, Con moto, un poco meno mosso, made the clarinet like a jewel in a perfect setting, Spiegelberg expressing her consummate

professionalism in this immensely powerful music.

The Manhattan Chamber Players received a standing ovation from a very grateful audience. An encore followed, with a Duo for Violin and Viola by Mozart, which was a lively conversation between the two instruments, full of transparency, spontaneity and innocence.

The next concert in the series will take place on Tuesday, August 11, at 7:30 p.m., and will feature pianist Fred Moyer with his trio performing classical and jazz works. For more information go to summermusicfromgreensboro.net/

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