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Elysian Camerata Review

By Autumn D. F. Hopkins          

Saturday night the Charleston Chamber Music Association presented Elysian Camerata, loosely defined as a "heavenly group," which is a chamber music ensemble from outside Philadelphia. Held at Christ Church United Methodist the concert had a lovely intimate feel.

In such a venue, the audience has the opportunity to be encompassed by the music, caught up in every gentle strain and moved with every raging crescendo. 

The concert consisted of three very different pieces. Each piece was briefly introduced by a member of the sextet in which they told about the composer and the history of the music.  This was helpful and lent a relaxed and open feel to the atmosphere.

The first piece, "Dumka For Violin, Viola and Piano," by Rebecca Clarke was broken into three movements.  The first and last movements mirrored each other with a dark and poignant lament.  The middle piece was light and quick with a rich undertone lent by the piano.  Throughout the middle portion of the piece the piano and strings played lightly with their roles.  At times the strings carried the serious under current while the piano danced lightly through the melody.  Quickly the roles were reversed and the piano would again hold the serious undercurrent.

"String Quintet in B-Flat Major, Op. 87" was the second piece presented.  Barbra Jaffe, first violin, explained the piece was the last chamber music composition Felix Mendelssohn wrote before his death in 1847, however, the piece was not performed until some years after his death.

An interesting and layered arrangement, the first movement, "Allegro vivace," began almost franticly, like a chase. Excitement bubbled throughout the music with a bright pert feel but quickly spiraled into dark melancholy with sinister tones.  A frantic crescendo led to a soaring poignant melody and the movement ended quickly on a bright note. 

"Andante scherzando," the second movement began plucky and warm with a light waltzing round sound.  It was friendly and cute a bit romantic but charming in a way that made audience members lean forward in their seats as if listening more closely for the secret.

The third movement, "Adagio e lento," was dark and villainous at times. Then it would resolve to a more pleading passionate entreat.  Dramatic and operatic it soared up until it culminated in a sweeping tension that never quite resolved.  Instead the piece softly faded never quite agreeing but instead gently giving in.

"Allegro molto vivace," the final movement of the piece was more like the first with a wild, lively pace.  The music would break sharply from this action and catapult the audience into a lilting sweetness only to forcefully surge back into the fray.

The third and final piece of the program, "Piano Quintet in F Minor, Opus 34," seemed to clearly be the favorite of Talia Schiff, cellist and daughter of former Charleston Symphony Orchestra conductor Charles Schiff.  She spoke passionately about the many incarnations the piece went through before composer Johannes Brahms, settled on the one Camerata performed. This too was divided into four movements.

"Allegro non troppo," the first movement, runs the scope of emotion. At times luscious and soft and at times dark and creeping it took the audience on a rollercoaster of emotion and showcased the talent of the musicians. It would speed to a frenetic pace only to smooth back into a round warmth and then speed back up faster than before. 

The second movement, "Andante, un poco Adagio, "was somewhat more whimsical.  Plucked strings lent a playful feel and at times the cello and viola seemed to take on almost human voice as the soared through the score.  The music was both opulent and sweet.

The third movement, "Scherzo-Allegro," jarred the audience back to earth.  Almost argumentative at times the piece is all over the emotional map.  Switch between dream-like melodies and driving actions this movement was breathtaking showing the technically proficiency of the musician.

The finale, "Poco sostenuto, Allegro non troppo" was intensely soulful but each page turn in the score seemed to offer a new musical experience for the audience.  Different musical styles from electrifying speed to lullaby-like charm melded seamlessly for musical perfect.

The audience was rapt as the ladies of Elysian Camerata brought life and breath to chamber music.  They were a pleasure to behold, and Charleston would be graced to see them come back soon.


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