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CSO Chamber Players Fill Important Niche

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: May 9, 2004 - 8:15:27 PM in reviews_2004

(first published in The Cincinnati Post May 8, 2004)

With the demise of the Cincinnati Symphony's popular "Bach and Beyond" series -- a victim of cost-cutting necessary to balance the CSO's budget -- members of the orchestra are going to value the CSO Chamber Players even more.

While not the same thing -- "Bach and Beyond" was a chamber orchestra series, not chamber music, where there is only one player to a part -- both afford the invaluable opportunity to perform music for small ensemble.

The Chamber Players closed their 14th season Friday night at Memorial Hall. The program, delightfully eclectic and handsomely played, was a reminder of the important and rewarding niche the series occupies.

Heard were works by Astor Piazzolla, Mozart, Claude Bolling and Bedrich Smetana in configurations ranging from a duo by Mozart to jazz ensemble.

Founded by music director emeritus Jesus Lopez-Cobos, the CSO Chamber Players is organized and run by the CSO musicians themselves. Players elect a five-member committee which selects programs from proposals submitted by their fellow musicians. There are four concerts a year on Friday evenings at Memorial Hall.

The beauty of it for area listeners is that there is virtually no combination of instruments the CSO cannot deliver.

Performers are mostly members of the CSO, with occasional exceptions such as pianist Frank Weinstock of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, who joined violinist Mauricio Aguiar and cellist Daniel Culnan Friday in Smetana's Piano Trio in G Minor.

The CSO clarinet section -- Richard Hawley, Anthony McGill, Ixi Chen and Ronald Aufmann -- opened smartly with Piazzolla's "Histoire du Tango," a kind of natural history of the steamy step, from turn-of-the-century bordello to contemporary art form.

You could hear the progression: Aufmann's tapping of the keys in "Bordel," the smoldering passion of "Café 1930," the more modern, cinematic sounds in "Night Club 1960" and the short, sassy finale ("Aujourd'hui").

CSO concertmaster Timothy Lees and violist Julian Wilkison were beautifully matched in Mozart's Duo for Violin and Viola, K.424. Wilkison's double stops were right on target in the exacting Andante, and the two played with elegance of expression and tonal sheen.

Assistant concertmaster Sylvia Samis led Bolling's Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano Trio, a "crossover" classic that imbues ragtime, the waltz, a French gavotte and a spinning hora with jazz rhythms.

Samis supplied all the right idioms -- the "Hora" was particularly delightful -- in an expert collaboration with pianist Julie Spangler, bassist Rich Vizachero and percussionist William Platt.

Smetana's lush, Brahmsian Piano Trio brought the evening to a heart-stopping close.

Aguiar astonished with his huge tone, produced high on the violin's lowest string in the opening bars. Culnan and Weinstock followed suit, making for a performance of radiant beauty and compelling musicianship.