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Sherman Ensemble: Smashing Musical Conversations

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Aug 13th, 2016

From left: Gerard Reuter, Doori Na, Eliot Bailen, Michael Roth

At St. Andrew’s Church in Kent on Friday evening the Sherman Ensemble offered a program entitled “Sweet Diversions with Mozart.” Their program theme focused on pieces where instruments held musical conversations. They began with Antonio Vivaldi’s Chamber Concerto for Flute, Oboe, and Cello in G minor, RV103 which provided a showcase for Susan Rotholz on flute with 1/8 notes running up and down the scale so fast that I marveled at her breathing technique while enjoying the fierce fluency demanded. Solid support on cello came from her husband Elliot Bailen and on oboe from Gerard Reuter. An eloquent clarity exuded from the intensity of the instruments that aspired to compete with a flute that would not give ground, not relinquish its lead. This was the flute’s world and other instruments would have to take a back seat, no matter how hard they strove for attention.

Robert Muczynski (1929-2010) is more often played now than when the Chicago composer was alive. His Duo for Flute and Oboe, Op. 24 as arranged by Claudia Anderson offered a showcase for Gerard Reuter on oboe. Reuter is a member of the Dorian Wind Quintet and founding member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The oboe rarely takes the spotlight and this was an opportunity to hear a great oboe player respond to the challenge of a flute and eloquently refute the flute. It was quite an argument and it was something of a surprise that the oboe appeared to win its argument by adopting a wider range of notes with more sophisticated resonance, as it embraced a larger range of mood.

Benjamin Britten’s Phantasy for Oboe, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 2 parlayed vigorous yet extremely moody debate. This piece was so moody that it was positively haunting. Each instrument proclaimed its own perspective with six different moods in six movements. The violin appeared overly insistent and pleased with itself, perhaps lacking much heft in substance. Doori Na on violin well conveyed the violin’s snobbish tendency to dominate. The viola under the capable hands of Michael Roth emerged as an adroit opportunist eloquent in argument—merely for the sake of argument. Bailen’s warm cello politely resided in the background, supporting by turns the viola or violin, yet by the end of the piece, when the other instruments ran out of argument, it was the cello that held forth, and neither the viola nor violin had the temerity to reply to the cello’s purity and sanity. The last solo sounds of etiolated cello notes were powerfully convincing and dramatic.

After intermission they tackled Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Divertimento for Violin, Viola, and Cello in E-flat, K. 563. I’ve heard this piece twice before, but this was best rendition I’ve heard to date. A divertimento is really background party music, but Mozart in his mischievous manner created a marvelous masterpiece. In performance Mozart played the viola and it sounded like the viola was by turns modest or provocative, encouraging either restraint or excess in the conversation with his two companions, whom he seemed to know better than they knew themselves. This was all great fun and Mozart is still the incomparable master of amusement. Here Doori Na excelled with a confidence and resonance that was delightfully impressive.

Here was not only an exciting, original conceptual program, but a performance to remember. They will perform a reprise at Lake Mauweehoo Club in Sherman on Saturday evening. For more information or tickets call (860) 350-2276 or go to  http://www.shermanchamberensemble.org/schedule.html