Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Ronen Chamber Ensemble's season-long 'sister cities' theme visits Piran and native son Tartini

With two outright masterpieces shoring up the program, the Ronen Chamber Ensemble held on to its celebration of Indianapolis' Sister Cities with a salute to Giuseppe Tartini, a native of Piran, Slovenia (known as Pirano when it was part of the Venetian empire of his day (1692-1770)).

The Concertino for Clarinet and Piano is Gordon Jacob's arrangement drawn from a couple of Tartini violin sonatas. It was played with the zest of a well-prepared appetizer to main courses of Mozart and Beethoven on Tuesday night at Indiana Landmarks Center.

The slow-fast-slow-fast layout of the work made for satisfying contrasts of textures and tempos for the duo of David Bellman and Gregory Martin. The clarinetist's passagework was unfailingly smooth and even in the Allegro molto; in the other fast movement, a sometimes brutally rapid finale, the difficulty for the clarinet to match the notes-per-second capability of the violin occasionally became evident.

Zachary DePue, Gregory Martin, and Ingrid Fischer-Bellman
Pianist Martin, often the workhorse of recent Ronen programs, was back in a more challenging role for Beethoven's Piano Trio in B-flat, op. 97, ("Archduke"). He was joined by violinist Zachary DePue and cellist Ingrid Fischer-Bellman, Ronen co-founder. The coordinated "singing" tone all three players produced in the Andante cantabile was a high point, though the pace lagged here and there into what felt like "adagio."

The second-movement Scherzo was lent some appropriate notes of mystery and suspense. In the finale, however, there was suspense at a couple of points that didn't strike me as germane. Holds (or fermatas) at transition points aren't meant to imply a brief rest before the next phrase, yet twice — at the initial Presto and then where the tempo picks up to piu presto (faster)— this trio inserted a pause. It may have been a deliberate interpretive choice, but to me authentic Beethoven excitement is the suddenness with which he changes or intensifies the mood (sometimes by one accented chord). There was a note of staidness about the finale that could have been at least partially wiped away by going "bang!" into those Presto passages. Indeed, the whole performance could have used more sparkle.

The highlight of the concert occupied the entire second half. Though the omission of Mozart's name
The ensemble acknowledges applause for its Mozart performance.
from the printed program was never explained, it was indeed his Serenade in C minor for wind octet, K.388, that brought onstage eight accomplished wind instrumentalists for a brightly engaging performance of the four-movement work.

With the main voice being the first oboe's, it was fun to hear Jennifer Christen in performance again during a time when she's been on maternity leave from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, where she is principal oboist. Joining her were Bellman and Samuel Rothstein, clarinets; Crystal Barrett, second oboe; Mike Muszynski and Kelly Swensson, bassoons, and Robert Danforth and Julie Beckel Yager, horns.

The vigor and attractiveness of the composition's themes and its tightly organized blend of high-profile melody and sweetly balanced accompaniment were firmly in place. The piece becomes especially winning with the emphasis on counterpoint in the canonic minuet-and-trio movement; variety of texture also comes to the fore there, which was brilliantly outlined by the ensemble. In the fast-paced finale, only some brief slips in coordination in the main theme's return detracted from the ensemble's excellent account of the work, which deserved to be credited in print to the apparently forgotten genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

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