An enthusiastic, relatively young audience heard six different ensembles at the Chamber Music Milwaukee concert Thursday (Nov. 10) evening at the UWM Zelazo Center. There were vacant seats, but the feeling was intimate rather than empty.
Musicians from the UW-Milwaukee music department, the MSO and elsewhere got together to open the series, put on by UWM’s Peck School of the Arts. A backdrop created by Jamie Bertsch’s freshman studio art class enhanced the feeling of community. Their work adorned the acoustical shell in crazy-quilt fashion. The curving meanders, stacked bars, flowing lines, and organic structures represented the art students’ responses to the music they’d all heard well in advance.
Cellist Stefan Kartman and pianist Jeannie Yu, partners in both music and life, opened with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4 in C Major, Op. 102, No. 1. Their sound at the start was warm and enveloping and their sentiments were simplicity and intimacy. The reading had a kitchen-table feel; old friends, a glass of port, a few scuffs in the surface to add to the homey comfort. They (and Beethoven) were more aggressive in the second movement, with piano riffs fluttering around the muffled warmth of the cello. The third movement soared on a strong, simple melody that glides up and playfully spirals down. At the end, the piece chugged and huffed along in rapid licks, the final ones so powerful that wood touched string. The finale began with playful piano melodies over low cello chords, and ended in a good-natured taunt.
Kartman joined flutist Caen Thomason-Redus and pianist Elena Abend in Carl Maria von Weber’s Trio in G Minor, Op. 63. Weber blended and contrasted instruments from three families to paint in a wide spectrum of tonal colors. Abend magically connected with the piano strings, as if she bowed and plucked them directly rather than pressed keys to lever hammers. Thomas-Redus’s flute matched the warmth of Kartman’s cello in its clear tone with subtle, rapid vibrato. The flutist even managed to mirror the string pizzicato. The ensemble sounded so rich and thick as to suggest more than just three players, yet each voice remained distinct as they intertwined their separate strands through swirling dances and singing solos and duets.
Trumpeters Kevin Hartman and Josh Gaake, horn player Gregory Flint and trombonist Mark Hoelscher played Hindemith’s Morgenmusik von Turm zu blasen, intended to be played from a tower in the morning. A bell-like fanfare opens the three short movements. From there, Hindemith alternates textures of chorale and counterpoint. Typical of Hindemith, the piece melds early and modern sensibilities, the open harmonic structure and traditional brass choir sound complicated by contemporary dissonance. The quartet painted a landscape both familiar and changed – a dreamlike structure where stairways double back, windows look out onto brick walls, and hallways veer off into infinity.
Clarinetist Todd Levy joined Abend — coiled like a spring at the piano — for the stifled screams of Ferruccio Busoni’s Elegie. Levy, high and soft, made the music levitate as Abend’s piano darkened and intensified the lines. The clarinet soared upward in a series of bubbling ascents. Now I could hear and see the connection to the the graceful curves, bristling with spikes, in some of the artwork on the backdrop. Somber trills, slow crescendos, and lush scales gave way to octave leaps and arpeggios dissolving into nothingness. The clarinet answered a final low note from the piano, and then a long hush as the audience savored the moment.
Franz Danzi’s Wind Quintet in G Minor, Op. 56, No. 2, brought together Levy, Thomason-Redus, Flint, oboist Margaret Butler and bassoonist Theodore Soluri. The flute began, accompanied by deep pedal tones of bassoon, gurgling fountains of clarinet, and passing staccato melodies. The sound of the quintet was warm and woody, colored by metal and the slight mechanical clicking of keys. The blend was perfect as voices floated up into solos and receded into the texture. The second movement featured horn and flute trading lyrical melodies. Lilting through off-beats, the waltz navigated choppy seas and swells, the trio a lively hornpipe for flute. And then they’re off! into the finale’s rollicking and flitting, the bassoon blurting out virtuosic flurries as the quintet raced to the end of the piece and the concert.