Chamber Music Milwaukee opens strong
For every piece on display in the typical art museum, dozens rest unseen in the vaults.
The standard repertoire of Western classical music is like that. For every Beethoven symphony that gets played again and again, dozens of other worthy pieces go unheard, many of them because they are scored for non-standard groups of instruments.
Chamber Music Milwaukee has made a mission of digging up excellent but rarely heard music and playing it with energy, skill and sensitivity. Thursday evening, the series opened with concert dazzling in its quality and variety.
Samuel Scheidt’s (1587-1654) Battle Suite, originally scored for viols, sounded very much at home and very military on brass quintet. Trumpeters Kevin Hartman and Mark Niehaus brought bracingly pointed attacks to the bugle-call writing in the outer movements.They switched to flugelhorns for the mellow middle movement. Trombonist Mark Hoelscher, tubist Martin Erickson and horn player Gregory Flint filled out this fine ensemble.
Where else would anyone hear two selections from Handel’s Nine German Arias? Handel composed this set in England many years after he had left Germany. They are lovely da capo songs for soprano with treble obbligato and continuo. Jenny Gettel sang effortlessly amid Handel’s tricky runs and ornaments. Flutist Caen Thomason-Redus played the obbligato in the second song and superb oboist Margaret Butler played the first.
Kevin Hartman took a nifty virtuoso turn in Telemann’s Three Pieces for Trumpet and Continuo, comprising a dignified, dotted-rhythm march, a lyrical center and a brilliant quick march finale. Harpsichordist Martha Stiehl and cellist Scott Cooke played lively continuo behind him and behind Gettel in the Handel arias.
Violinist Frank Almond and cellist Joseph Johnson sprung the biggest revelation in an evening full of revelations. They played the Handel’s Passacaglia in G minor, a harpsichord piece in a wonderfully idiomatic transcription by Johan Halversen. You can’t get more obscure than that, and you can’t get more thrilling. Almond and Johnson brought Errol Flynn panache to 16 complicated, ingenious variations on a ground and set an audience of maybe 250 to cheering.
Almond is the concertmaster and Johnson is the principal cellist of the Milwaukee Symphony. Levy, who has made a great commitment to UWM, Niehaus and Butler are also members of the orchestra. Thomason-Redus, Flint and Hartman are full-time faculty at UWM. The close bonds between the department and the MSO have helped to make Chamber Music Milwaukee one of the city’s great musical adventures.
Chamber Music Milwaukee concerts take place in the Zelazo Center at UWM. Next on this series: La Revue Francaise, Oct. 29.