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Art meets music as Buffalo Chamber Players continue Albright-Knox stint

The Buffalo Chamber Players are settling into their first season as the ensemble-in-residence at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, offering up their usual mix of interesting programing and varying lineups.

On the whole, this is a very good thing, with musicians drawn from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and a pool of other talented local performers. That said, there are times where glorious serendipity holds sway and times – thankfully few – when art treads water.

Thursday evening’s performance was one of those mixed bags. Nothing was bad and a few things happened that were definitely of the caliber one would expect from this group, but there were moments …

It was a tale of two halves.

First up was an admittedly minor chip from a master’s workbench. Mozart’s early Trio in E flat (K. 498) was scored for clarinet, viola, and piano – an interesting lineup that, in performance, felt more like drawing room material, “hausmusik” rather than a work destined for a concert stage. Andrew Seigel (clarinet), Janz Castelo (viola), and Alison d’Amato (piano) gave it as much polish as it deserved.

Feng Hew, the BPO’s associate principal cellist, had a marvelous turn as the soloist in the adagio cantabile from Haydn’s early Symphony no. 13.

Rounding out the first half of the program was the world premiere of Scott Wheeler’s “Ben Gunn,” a three-song cycle based on a character from Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” The lyrics were a mouthful and their realization worked with the rhythm of the text to create a work that could be interesting to hear more than once. The composer was on hand to witness the process by baritone Aaron Engebreth with d’Amato accompanying the singer.

The heart of the evening however lay in the second half of the concert. This is where the programming hook was interesting and worth the effort.

Anytime Bach’s third “Brandenburg Concerto” (BWV 1048) lands onstage, the results are (generally) audience-friendly gold and this was the case here. The tunes are catchy, the playing was solid and really, there was little to find fault with. Phrasing seemed a bit “squared off” but enjoyment was not compromised.

The kicker for the evening was Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” concerto, a work that the composer admitted was influenced by the Bach piece that the Chamber Players had just finished performing.

Stravinsky once said “I do not think, however, that Bach would have begrudged me the loan of these ideas and materials, as borrowing in this way was something he liked to do himself.”

Led by Stefan Sanders, the BPO’s associate conductor, and featuring Roland E. Martin on harpsichord (which he also played in the Bach piece), the 17 musicians onstage turned in a worthy performance of Stravinsky’s neoclassical gem. The Bach theme emerged with a few tweaks but was recognizable, in part, by their having graced the audience ears minutes before.

The next concert by the Players is scheduled for May 19 and will showcase works by Beethoven, Dvorak and Prokofiev.


Buffalo Chamber Players

Thursday night in Albright-Knox Art Gallery

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