Capacity crowd ushers in Chamber season

The Chamber Music Society at the Spa Little Theatre opened its third season Sunday afternoon in high

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Chamber Music Society at the Spa Little Theatre opened its third season Sunday afternoon in high style: wonderful performances, a pre-concert talk with Fred Child of NPR’s “Performance Today,” and a champagne/hors d’oeuvre toast after the concert. The concert was also recorded for future broadcast.

A capacity crowd enjoyed a program of some unexpected gems. Violinists Erin Keefe and Danbi Um, violist Richard O’Neill, cellist Mihai Marica, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor and pianist Michael Brown began with Haydn’s Symphony in G Major.

The orchestral version premiered in 1792, but promoter Johann Salomon arranged it for these instruments to satisfy amateur musicians’ demands. He did a great job. The players set lively tempos; produced a robust sound; and played with great ensemble especially by the third movement after they’d all warmed up.

Um then took over the solo spot for Schubert’s “Rondo in A Major for Violin and String Quartet” (1816). This, too, was written for a family gathering but the solo part needed a bravura and brilliant player to navigate the almost concerto level of difficulty. Um did a splendid job in this capacity. Her phrasing was direct with a precise and strong rhythmic sense and she seemed at ease with all that technique. The quartet provided solid and spirited support.

In harmonic contrast was Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and String Quartet” (1905). Harpist Elizabeth Hainen of the Philadelphia Orchestra and clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein joined the other players.

The work is almost a harp concerto and Hainen was superb and stylish. Colors were exotic with the harp rippling in summery melodies and sensuous lines. The music sparkled with a carefree lightness, almost like clouds scudding across a blue sky. In the slightly quicker section, the harp’s plucked tones were fireflies against a perfumed evening. The players had terrific ensemble and balances were exact.

Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” for 13 players garnered the 1945 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Although a tape of the orchestral version has been danced to at SPAC, Sunday was the first time the original version had been performed, and it was a dandy. With the addition of three players from the Philadelphia Orchestra, the ensemble was so in sync that it was hard to believe they’d never worked together before. It was a thrilling performance and the crowd went wild.

Tuesday’s concert features Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Ravel.

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