Nassau Chamber Ensemble debuts at NAGB
The Nassau Chamber Ensemble played to an enthusiastic audience of approximately 130 music lovers that completely filled the appointed space at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas last Sunday afternoon.
Founded by Noel Thompson and Helene Peloquin, the 11-member string and cembalo group gave a fine debut performance. The program well-suited such an intimate and acoustically appropriate setting, Concert Master and soloist Afrika Karamo-Miller led her fellow musicians in primarily Baroque, Classical and Romantic favorites.
By way of introduction to this genre, permit me to mention that chamber music consists of compositions written for small groups of instruments, traditionally intended for performance in a palace chamber, private room, salon, or small concert hall. Playing chamber music requires heightened musical and interpersonal sensitivity, because the music is conversational in nature. If the performers do not really listen to one another or take visual cues from one another, there is no politesse and therefore the result is fragmented individualism rather than harmonious wholeness.
The Nassau Chamber Ensemble largely succeeded in achieving this sense of unity and comity, more so as the program progressed and the initial, to-be-expected butterflies dissolved in the warm applause of the audience. In the future, they might strive to be more attentive to the tempo set by the Concert Master and to watch her more closely(and even breathe in unison with her)in order to prepare crisper, cleaner, more coordinated attacks.
The ensemble’s first offering was a robust rendition of Tomaso Albinoni’s Baroque Concerto for Strings in G major, with good dynamic shadings and contrasts. This was followed by a modern work based on a Welsh hymn tune, Rhosymedre, by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The sound was lush, and the harmonies were true.
Flautist Christine Gangelhoff, Assistant Professor of Music at COB who received her Doctorate in Performance from the Yale School of Music, was the first soloist on the afternoon. Her selection of the Concerto in C minor for Oboe and Strings by Baroque composer Domenico Cimarosa was ideal.(The oboe and the flute are mostly interchangeable in the music of this period.)
The flute and first violin participated in a delightful back-and-forth conversation, which was an absolute joy to hear. Gangelhoff’s tone was beautiful and full without a trace of that breathiness that is so common in less accomplished artists, and her technique was absolutely flawless. Her delivery sounded effortless, nuanced, and yet powerful as appropriate.
In the Allegro movement, the strings’pizzicatos and strong downward bow strokes lent a deliberately comical aspect to the piece that was most enjoyable. In addition, the dynamics were varied and well observed, and the little birdlike sections were a delight to the ear. The Siciliana section was as darkly operatic as the previous Allegro was light, and gave Gangelhoff the opportunity to display her outstanding breath control. The final Allegro movement was a joyous, skipping thing where once again Gangelhoff’s excellent breath control stood her in good stead. Her performance was greeted with great applause, and cries of”Brava!”filled the air.
The first half of the program was concluded by the moving Andante from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. As a Romantic-period work, it could have benefited from a more dramatically exciting interpretation and delivery. However, the entrances were good, the sound was full and rich, and the Concert Master led the way up those famous ascending scales.
The second half of the program, staying in the Romantic period, commenced with the Scherzo from the Johannes Brahms Serenade No. 1 in D major. The cello solo section as performed by First Cellist Abigail Feaster was graceful, playful perfection, as appropriate for a scherzo.
We then returned to the Baroque period with Georg Muffat’s Concerto XII in G major–Propitia Sydera. In particular, the first violins and first cello had sprightly dance-like duets which were delightful to hear.
The next offering was the Horn Quintet in E flat by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart featuring French horn soloist Laura Danek, who is the Horn Tutor for the Bahamas Music Conservatory. This is a challenging work for the soloist, with wide leaps from low to high notes and with trills as well.
Danek, who attended the renowned Boston University Tanglewood Institute, evidenced no breaks in her range; and her breath control was formidable yet unobtrusive. All these things combined to provide an aura of mastery and ease on her part.
Mozart’s works are always grace-full, and this quintet was no exception. The ensemble’s dynamic shadings were exquisite, and the attacks were clean and clear. Danek played effortlessly and naturally, all within the rich, dark timbre of her Conn horn.
An especially lovely singing tone was achieved in a duet with the first violin, alternating mellifluous lines and strong bass-note sections. There was even a bit of that wonderful heroic Waldhorn sound within this first Allegro movement, whereas the following Andante movement was all about beautiful legatos.
The final Allegro was pure Mozartean acrobatic fun, with bounding leaps that crossed octaves and with scales galore. Ms. Danek did not disappoint. When it came to soloists, the Nassau Chamber Ensemble chose well!
The last portion of the program was devoted to the Baroque period. The Largo(Ombra mai fu)from George Frederic Handel’s opera seria, Xerxes, is so well known and such a favorite that a bit of surreptitious humming-along by a member of the audience(who shall go unnamed)was heard.
The concluding work was Antonio Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in A minor, another all-time favorite featuring soloist Afrika Karamo-Miller of Freeport, G.B., named National Teacher of the Year for The Bahamas.
Karamo-Miller, who as the recipient of several scholarships, attended Interlochen and toured Eastern Europe, did indeed play masterfully, as befits the Concert Master that she is.
In the Largo movement in particular, she delivered a poignant singing tone and perfectly-executed, heartbreaking dotted rhythms. Karamo-Miller was accompanied largely by cembalist Kendrick Coleby. Concertos, like art songs, are best when they are understood and performed as dialogues between soloists and their primary accompanists.
As an encore, Managing Director Thompson gave us Karl Jenkins’riveting Palladio, known to many as the De Beers Diamonds commercial. In conclusion, Thompson thanked the audience for their support of this new musical venture.
The Nassau Chamber Ensemble has exhibited great potential and has set the standard for the performance of full-length, serious classical concertos. It is to be hoped that patronage and sponsorship will be forthcoming, now that this fine group has proven its commitment and its worth.
It definitely deserves to live and thrive in our warm and nurturing Bahamian cultural climate. We look forward to the next concert in October of 2011 and anticipate the continued growth of both the individual musicians and the Nassau Chamber Ensemble as a living, breathing, performing entity unto itself.