A Hyde Park afternoon off the beaten path

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

The Chicago Ensemble is in its 42nd season of concerts in Hyde Park, and on Sunday they offered a fascinating performance in International House. The Ensemble benefits from the golden ears of its artistic director, Gerald Rizzer. His ability to find rarely performed works of high-quality means that a concert by TCE is often a pleasing and exciting journey into the unknown.

The highlight of Sunday’s concert was the Quintet by André Caplet, written at the very end of the 19th century.

Caplet was born in 1878, and this Quintet was one of his first compositions, completed in 1899. Caplet won the Prix de Rome in 1901, beating out Maurice Ravel. He was well known in his lifetime as an orchestrator (he orchestrated several works by Claude Debussy, who was his good friend). He also had a career as a conductor, including a stint at the Boston Opera from 1910 to 1914. But he died young, at age 46, from complications of a gas attack he sustained in World War I.

Scored for flute (Shanna Gutierrez), oboe (Ricardo Casteñeda), clarinet (Elizandro Garcia-Montoya), bassoon (Ben Roidl-Ward) and piano (Gerald Rizzer), the four-movement Quintet features lush chromaticism and attractive impressionist qualities. The work disappeared in the early part of the 20th century, only to re-emerge in the late ‘30s; it was first published in the late 1990s, almost a century after its original composition.

The music’s romantic qualities were drawn out in this robust performance of a work where the composer has gorgeously deployed winds. Introspective and splashy in turns, the players navigated the interesting qualities of the music with commitment and musicality. The musicians clearly understood the interesting architecture created by the composer.

The opening Allegro con brio had lovely interplay between piano and winds and a happy mood, all heading to a big conclusion. The Adagio was thoughtful, with particularly effective sad cries from the clarinet and long lines from the flute. All the players found the fun in the Andante’s syncopation and the bright and beguiling melodies. This movement’s conclusion was both cheery and mysterious. The final Allegro was brisk and spirited, featuring strong support by bassoon, interesting laments in the oboe, and some melodies in the flute that simply floated gently.

It was a splendid performance of an interesting work.

The concert opened with Haydn’s London Trio No. 1 in C Major. Originally written for two flutes and cello, this arrangement had flute, clarinet, and bassoon. Gutierrez on flute was bright and airy and had a strong sense of rhythm. Garcia-Montoya on clarinet had a creamy, smooth sound. Roidl-Ward was perky on the bassoon, contributing a beautiful bounce to the music.

American composer Robert Muczynski’s “Duos” from 1991 is written for flute and clarinet. The six short movements combined for a pleasing experience. There was some tense, tight dissonance in the Allegro moderato while the Allegro risoluto was frisky with infectious dotted rhythms. The close harmonies were attractive in the Moderato and the Allegro ma non troppo featured a rapid passing of the melody back and forth from flute to clarinet. The slow and mysterious Andante molto ended quickly and the final Allegro was energetic and always on the move. It all ended on a happy and fluttering note.

The concert closed with Poulenc’s 1962 Trio for oboe, bassoon, and piano. Rizzer’s strong piano introduction led into an impressive moment for the bassoon followed by the oboe. The second movement opened with an appealing melody in the bassoon, soon joined by the oboe. The Rondo was a jolly affair followed by yet another Rondo which raced to a conclusion after a particularly sweet and lyrical oboe section.

It was a satisfying and successful concert.

This season the Chicago Ensemble has a series of concerts of new music by living composers. The four concerts are at the PianoForte Studio in the South Loop and program music from around the world. The most recent of these concerts was last month, and featured Rizzer and Garacia-Montoya along with violinist Eleanor Bartsch and cellist Alexa Muhly.

Matthew Browne’s “On the Immortality of a Crab” took its inspiration from daydreaming and distraction. The piece, which employed all four players, moved around quickly, at times having urgency, at other times being languid. Roger Zare’s “Telescopic Variations” was written for violin, cello, and piano and the music passed from instrument to instrument fluidly, with an interesting passacaglia at the end.

“Phoenix” by Alexander Timofeev included a charming jazz ballad while Joyce Wai-chung Tang’s “Reflections on Arirang” for clarinet, violin, and piano employed fragments of several Arirang folk tunes, some of which had glittering moments.

The final work was Luzia von Wyl’s “Autumn” for violin, cello, and piano. Like Timofeev, von Wyl made use of jazz as well as sharp accents and employed a strong rhythmic drive.

The next “Discover America” concert of new music is later this month: Mar. 30 at the PianoForte Studio (1335 S. Michigan Ave.) at 4 p.m. For more information, visit TheChicago Ensemble.org.