Albemarle Ensemble Starts Slow, Finishes Strong

The Albemarle Ensemble performed a thoughtfully balanced program Sunday, March 18, 2018. It included wind quintet works by Franz Danzi, Nino Rota, and John Harbison. Also featured was an Eric Ewazen trio and an arrangement of a Gaudencio Thiago de Mello piece.

The Ensemble opened the concert with Danzi’s Quintet in G minor, Op. 56 No. 2., a cornerstone of the repertoire. The players seemed to take a while to fully engage with the music. Entrances in the first movement seemed a trifle imprecise (albeit only by a hair). And the energy level felt a little low. By the second movement, the Ensemble had settled in, and from that point, the piece blossomed.

The Andante had a nice instrumental blend, especially in the unison passages. The Minuet sounded light on its feet and occasionally sparkled with energy that I had missed in the Allegro.

By the finale, the players had hit their stride. Kudos to bassoonist Elizabeth Roberts for her laser-like precision in some exceptionally rapid passages.

Ewazan’s 1993 “Mosaics for Flute, Bassoon, and Marimba” followed. It was the most modern work on the program, and (in my opinion) one of the most appealing of the night. Percussionist I-Jen Fang joined Elizabeth Roberts and flutist Kelly Sulick in an exceptional performance.

Elizabeth Roberts and Kelly Sulick’s instruments blended in sonorous harmony. I-Jen Fang’s playing was near-perfection, as she moved effortlessly across the range of the marimba. These three musicians played with authority and élan. The audience responded in kind with prolonged and enthusiastic applause that merited a curtain call.

The second half opened with “Petite Offrande Musicale”, a 1943 quintet by Italian film composer Nino Rota. Its gorgeous harmonies were enhanced by the exquisite blend of the ensemble.

The Ensemble concluded with Harbison’s 1979 “Quintet for Winds.” According to the composer, the work “emphasizes mixtures and doublings and maintains a classically simple surface. It’s extremely challenging to play.”

And I found it extremely rewarding to listen to. The Ensemble’s warm, creamy instrumental blend in the Romanze was exceptional. So, too, were the unwavering sustained tones of the Scherzo. The players handled Harbison’s technical challenges without (apparently) breaking a sweat.

The Finale had an energy brought the work — and the concert — to an exciting conclusion. The Albemarle Ensemble may have started the evening slowly, but they finished it in top form. The audience agreed.

The Albemarle Ensemble
Katy Ambrose, horn; Shawn Earle, clarinet; Elizabeth Roberts, bassoon; Kelly Sulick, flute
with I-Jen Fang, marimba
UVa Chamber Music Series Concert
Old Cabell Hall, March 18, 2018

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