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From Bach to Kick Drum, the Remarkable CSO Chamber Players

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Feb 7, 2004 - 8:00:37 PM in reviews_2004

(first published in The Cincinnati Post Feb. 7, 2004)

What a remarkable organism a symphony orchestra is.

It can morph into almost anything, from a 100-piece orchestra to the smallest chamber ensemble.

A case in point was Friday night’s concert by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players at Memorial Hall.

There was a baroque concerto, a violin duo, a string quartet and two duets for trombone and double bass, one including kick drum performed by CSO principal bassist Owen Lee.

To open their 14th season, the Chamber Players offered a trademark blend of the familiar and the not-so, from J.S. Bach to jazz pianist Roger Kellaway.

There was a delicious emphasis on the lower voices in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6. Enveloping the listener in their rich, chocolatey sound were violists Paul Frankenfeld and Denisse Rodriguez-Rivera, cellist Norman Johns, bassist Lee, James Lambert and Katrina Aguiar on violas da gamba and harpsichordist Heather MacPhail. It was a caloric experience, with Lee descending to a low B-flat on his bass’ extension and a heady one, too, with the violas chasing each other in close counterpoint much of the way. The violas sang in melting tones in the Adagio, against MacPhail’s lute stops and the bass voices, while the finale was as energetic as riding to the hounds.

Violinists Eric Bates and Stacey Woolley took center stage in Miklós Rózsa’s Sonata for Two Violins, a work perfused with Hungarian flavor (and a long way from his epic film scores such as "Ben Hur"). Bates and Woolley reveled in it, gutsy double-stops, finger slides (Woolley) and all. Their rapport was exceptional. The Adagio was exquisite, coiling to a big climax then subsiding in soft harmonics. The giocoso finale was lusty and jewel-bright, the two violins sounding like a whole string section at the end.

Lee and CSO principal trombonist Cristian Ganicenco nearly stole the show with Elgar’s Duet for Trombone and Bass and Kellaway’s "Esque," where Lee did amazing double duty on the kick drum. The Elgar was a brief, bright bauble compared to "Esque," a jazzy work with an attitude that called for – and got - a virtuosic performance from the two players (Kellaway is known, among other things, for having written the closing theme for TV’s "All in the Family").

The growly opening movement yielded to blues in the second and a wild angular Presto (minimalist cubism?) lit up by Ganicenco’s cool trombone and punctuated by Lee’s nimble, precisely timed drumbeats.

The Ravel Quartet was like an old friend by contrast, lustrous and filled with nuance as performed by violinists Rebecca Culnan and Drake Crittenden Ash, violist Steven Rosen and cellist Susan Marshall-Petersen. The four were well matched, with ravishing playing by all. Rosen’s intense, focused sound and Marshall-Petersen’s dark, rich one invested the slow movement, while the violins provided a rich palette of expressive color throughout.