Washington Classical Review » Blog Archive » Chiarina Chamber Players Whets the Appetite with Carlos Simon’s Food-Themed Premiere

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Chiarina Chamber Players and baritone Carl DuPont performed a new piece by Carlos Simon (center) on Friday night. Photo: Harsh Atit

Lamentations and laughter, strangely, often go hand in hand in tragic moments. These opposing expressions of extreme emotion united Chiarina Chamber Players’ latest program on Friday night. The ensemble’s co-founders, cellist Carrie Bean Stute and pianist Efi Hackmey, joined Attacca Quartet violinist Domenic Salerni and baritone Carl DuPont for this intriguing concert at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill.

The three instrumentalists opened the evening with Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 4. The other title of the piece, “Dumky”, is the plural form of dumka, a Ukrainian folk lament usually contrasted with a happier, faster section. Avoiding the traditional forms of the piano trio, the composer simply linked six of these pieces in a long musical chain.

Salerni and Stute weave together high unaccompanied lines in the first movement, contrasted by a turbocharged B-section with feather-light pianism from Hackmey. Stute took the lead in the more melancholy second movement, with violin and piano supporting, then helping to drive the fast section forward with a folk-style accelerando. Hackmey took the piano part in the third movement with spontaneity, although the double violin strings turned sour at times.

The fourth movement moved forward with urgency, enlivened by a playful accelerando, again with solid solo work from Stute’s fiery cello. The three musicians gave a virtuosic edge to the last two movements, with fast tempos providing strong contrasts with the moving lamentation sections. Salerni’s G string croaked with solid power in the finale, the choppy B section lively but still marked by subtle phrasing from all parts.

DuPont and Hackmey played night songs, a 1961 song cycle by Ohio-born composer H. Leslie Adams. It features the poetry of Langston Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance writers, begun by Adams after meeting Hughes in New York. DuPont brought a rich, vibrato-heavy tone to the first two songs, both to lyrics by Hughes, the cooler “Prayer” distinct from the more active “Drums of Tragedy”.

Hackmey accompanied judiciously, so as not to cover the baritone, in particular in the two central songs, both of women associated with the Harlem Renaissance, “Night Song” by Clarissa Scott Delaney and “The Heart of a Woman” by Georgia Douglas Johnson . DuPont’s vibrato became more prominent, at times obscuring center pitch in “Sence You Went Away”, a dialect poem by James Weldon Johnson, who also wrote the lyrics for “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. The last song, “Creole Girl”, added some momentum with a faster tempo.

The mood turned dark again with the string duo The world is on fire by Christophe Theofanidis. Commissioned for the centenary of the Juilliard School and premiered in 2006, the tragedy it looks at was the September 11 attacks and the wars that followed. Salerni violently hacked the many dissonant double saves, the hair-raising clashes that grew tiresome, Stute ferociously dispatching tricky running tricks. The job ended in hammered bunches, both sides relentless and unresolved until the very end.

Chiarina Chamber Players

Chiarina Chamber Players and Carl DuPont (standing) at St. Mark’s on Capitol Hill. Photo: Harsh Atit

As the pandemic hopefully recedes from the world, composers will bring us new works inspired by the bizarre and horrifying circumstances of the past two years. Some will miss the mark, like the song cycle heard earlier this week by Jake Heggie. The world premiere that closed this concert, The best kitchen by Carlos Simon, can find a lasting place with performers because it captures something joyful from the coronavirus era: the home cooking craze.

Simon, in a brief introduction, said he cooked a lot during the lockdown period, like most of us. DuPont e-mailed the composer many recipes, and DuPont adapted the words of these messages for the lyrics of these five songs. It opened with “Grace,” a preprandial prayer in a relaxed, pleasingly tonal harmonic idiom. Violin and cello eventually achieved some independence with lines weaved into a contrapuntal “Amen” with voice and piano.

The range here suited DuPont’s voice better than the lower range night songs, and his heavily trilled R’s in “Salmon with Kale” added another degree of fun to the spicy tango accompaniment. DuPont accentuated the blues-tinged lines of “Mac and Cheeze,” matched with funky piano chords and pizzicati strings and bends. Salerni and Stute shared an introspective, piano-less interlude that led beautifully into the fourth song.

‘Roux’ was a fast, swirling waltz, perhaps reminiscent of Ravel’s. The waltz or a tarantella, which twirled wildly as DuPont spoke, sang, and spat out a series of evocative verbs (“Suck, slurp, slurp, chew, chow,” is just one line). Hackmey continued Ravel’s evocation in a brief piano interlude that led to the fifth song, “Healthy Ramen,” which bounced around with the spirit of a Latin dance, complete with percussive touches from the strings.

Chiarina Chamber Players perform more music by living composers for their season finale at 7:30 p.m. on May 8, featuring selections from Danielpour, León, Sheng and others. chiarina.org

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