Chameleon Arts Ensemble shows true colors with wide-ranging program

November 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm

By Richard Duckett

The Chameleon Arts Ensemble performed music of Schubert, Poulenc, Larsen and Brahms Sunday at the Goethe-Institut. Photo: Susan Wilson.

The Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston is displaying its true stylistic color by being true to its musical heart. The chamber group’s stated goal is to present diverse, challenging, century-spanning programming.

Under the creative leadership of artistic director Deborah Boldin, the mostly young, hardworking, and talented Chamelon musicians put their hearts into a highly enjoyable concert featuring works from a young Schubert, Brahms in his prime, Poulenc at a playful zenith, and contemporary American composer Libby Larsen Sunday afternoon at the Goethe-Institut. The venue provided a charming setting, a small space with a capacity 85 people in attendance.

Schubert got into the habit of leaving works incomplete and unfinished early on, as with his String Trio in B-flat Major. Even for its provenance, the trio is a surprising work with a youthful freshness and lively breaks against conventional structure.

Violinist Joanna Kurkowicz, violist Scott Woolweaver and cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer gave an earnest, committed rendering that brought out most of its spirit. There was sometimes too much literal concentration and deliberation, but the three performers worked well together with Kurkowicz ably leading the way.

In the intimate space, it was a bit of an acoustical shock to next encounter the brash sounds of Poulenc’s carnival-like opening to his Sextet. With wind instruments and piano being put through their paces with demanding, complex rhythms, the six Chameleon musicians seemed to enjoy the challenge. Flutist Boldin was a steady force, with especially piquant support by oboist Nancy Dimock. The horn playing became unmoored at times, but the ensemble overall held together well as they explored the shifting moods of this remarkable composition.

Libby Larsen’s Corker for clarinet and percussion didn’t quite live up to its title. The composer has described the work as inspired by 1940s musical language as well as “the percussive world” of American music. Whether that is the fault of her work or Sunday’s performance wasn’t entirely clear. The two Chameleon members played well individually but were not always in synch as a duo. But they did come together at the end to uncork something of the music’s jazzy 1940s homage.

Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major was the major work of the afternoon, and showcased Chameleon at its best with a bold, impassioned performance. Pianist Gloria Chien joined Kurkowicz, Woolweaver and Popper-Keizer to present a forceful account of the opening movement. Chien wasn’t afraid to attack forcefully, nor were the other player in the stormy, dramatic passages. This is a work that has many beautiful, lyrical moments as well, but what was striking about this performance was the way it came across with such impact. Sometimes this threatened to become overwrought, but the honest music-making and passion were never in doubt.

Richard Duckett is a Worcester-based writer and critic.

Posted in Performances

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