Rage and remembrance

The Midwest Chamber Ensemble’s concert of American chamber works showcased two diametrically opposed pieces in Richard Danielpour’s “A Child’s Reliquary” and Robert Muczynski’s Sonata for Cello and Piano.

The Midwest Chamber Ensemble is the most fearless ensemble in Kansas City. With only two seasons under its belt, the group of pre-professionals hasn’t shied away from presenting the typical Beethoven and Brahms but their commitment to new music and that of the 20th century is equally telling. They have nothing to lose! As indicated by the generous and enthusiastic audience for the ensemble’s “American Chamber Music” program, they have struck that sweet spot of straddling the familiar and less so that appeals to a wide variety of music appreciators.

Guest pianist Melody Stroth was joined by violinist Ramiro Miranda and cellist Irene Diaz-Gill on Richard Danielpour’s A Child’s Reliquary. Composed in memory of a friend’s child who died in a pool accident at age 18 months, the piece is obviously tragic. Filled with fragments of and motives of the Brahms Lullaby, the work is neo-romantic with its emphasis on melancholic lyricism and lush harmonic writing. The three instruments are treated equally and all play for almost the entirety of the piece. The whirling dervish second movement, Vivace e leggero, contrasts with the watery, solemn outer movements and contains the work’s best music even if it’s an odd fit in the “reliquary” mold. As a collection of morphed children’s songs it works though, and the repeated nostalgic waltz in the vein of Uematsu’s video game scores is quite lovely. The strings’ intonation occasionally slipped in favor of quick passagework but Stroth was a beautifully sensitive player and partner even in the cavernous space of Prairie Baptist Church. Her small trills in the third movement were evocative of angelic bells ringing and the oft-repeated ascending arpeggio pattern was deftly balanced between the hands.

Thematic Mediation for clarinet, violin, viola, and cello by 17-year-old Hans Heruth of Liberty High School was a strong start for a young composer. Most young composers have so many ideas that they attempt to cram them all into one piece. Heruth focused on a single Brahmsian theme, first introduced by the clarinet. This choice gave the piece cohesion. It’s a pretty work and very tonal; I look forward to hearing more from Heruth and his eventual (and needed) breaking of the rules as he matures. He could easily expand this piece with more variations as it seems to be an unfinished exploration of the theme’s possibilities.

Providing some needed grit to the program was Robert Muczynski’s Sonata for Cello and Piano under the capable hands of Tiffany Bell and Richard Jeric. Bell is an aggressive and expressive cellist and the piece needs that edge to be convincing. Her pizzicatos were robust and she attacked the work with zeal. She was unable to temper her sound in the work’s few reflective lyrical moments, however. Jeric matched Bell’s fortitude and negotiated Muczynski’s writing with seeming ease. The first fast variation in the “Theme and Variations” was under tempo, and I pondered if it was a technique issue but the blazing fourth movement shattered that fear. They tore through that movement with an irresistible fervor.

Midwest Chamber Ensemble
American Chamber Music

Sunday, September 21, 2014
Prairie Baptist Church
7416 Roe Ave., Prairie Village, KS
For more information, visit www.midwestchamberensemble.org