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Review: Magical Mozart and less traveled music played by the American Chamber Players

By David Williams

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The American Chamber Players sojourned on some less-traveled pathways of chamber music before playing a masterpiece by Mozart for the Charleston Chamber Music Society, Saturday night at Christ Church United Methodist.

It was evident from the first phrase of Carl Maria von Weber's Trio in G Minor for Flute, Cello and Piano that pianist Anna Stoytcheva could blend intimately with the other instruments. Her liquid tone was generously colored but never overwhelming, allowing Sara Stern's rich, dark flute sound and cellist Stephen Balderston's tasteful playing to emerge effortlessly.

The waltz of the second movement alternated a nearly feline grace with darker outbursts. The final two movements hinted at von Weber's operatic mastery with little soliloquies for each instrument and well-placed dramatic pauses. The trio played with panache.

Violinist Joanna Maurer joined Stern for an effervescent performance of Ginastera's light-hearted Duo for Flute and Violin, Op. 13. Both musicians fairly bounced through playing the skittering fourths in the opening motif of the first movement.

A quiet Pastorale let Maurer play with hearty lines that Stern aided with impressionistic shimmers from her flute.

The concluding Fugue was an exciting froth of counterpoint that climaxed in a scampering stretto, with the fugal entrances pushed closer together in time, before ending with a witty unison flourish.

Mahler's single-movement Quartet in A Minor for Piano and Strings was written when the composer was 16 and it, unsurprisingly, lacks the pulsating angst of his mature work. But the ensemble let it brood while lavishing colorful, gracefully-phrased lyricism on the music.

Violist Miles Hoffman (the ACP's founder) joined Stern and Maurer for a refreshing performance of Beethoven's Variations on "La ci darem la mano," a duet from Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni." Hoffman played with elastic agility on the cascading arpeggios that continually turn the music mirthful.

Mozart's Piano Quartet in E-flat major, K. 493 received a sensational performance, one where every phrase seemed revelatory. Stoytcheva's piano helped shape the strings' lines into glittering textures and an insistent toe-tapping rhythm infusing the music, even in the slow movement.


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