The Chamber Players Review- The Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players at The City Winery

On Sunday, November 20th, 2016, the Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players a/k/a The Metropolis Oboe Quartet, consisting of oboist Deb Stevenson, violinist Thomas Yang, Violist Rose Armbrust Griffin and cellist Steven Houser performed a diverse repertoire of pieces at The City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph. The program, entitled “Handel and Eggs”, (it was put on to coincide with brunch), consisted of 7 genre-defying pieces from the baroque through music composed for films- there was truly something for every taste!

The Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players aka The Metropolis Oboe Quartet; photo by Alan McConnell photography

 First on the bill was “The Arrival of The Queen of Sheba”,  (HMV 67), 1748, by George Frederic Handel, from the oratorio “Solomon”.  Short, bright and sprightly, it has often been performed during wedding ceremonies, or as a processional piece. It is a very famous sinfonia, or orchestral work which introduces the Queen of Sheba during a state visit to Solomon’s kingdom. Executed with energy and a pleasant undulating sound, this was an admirable performance.

 Next performed was “Oboe Concerto in C minor”, by Alessandro Marcello, 1716. It has been described as consisting of “glorious thematic material underpinned by luxuriant harmonics”, and was featured in the film “The Firm”. It’s a concise and intensely expressive serious piece, known as “one of the defining works of the oboe repertory”. The piece was beautifully brought to fruition with the strings effectively transporting the natural intensity of the oboe.

Rose Armbrust Griffin, Steven Houser, Deb Stevenson and Thomas Yang

After this, the audience was treated to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Quartet for Oboe and Strings in F major, (K370), 1781, a piece that requires quite a bit of sophisticated oboe playing. Indeed, it was composed to “show off” an oboe prodigy,  Fredrich Ramm, then 14, and to display what were then recent improvements to the oboe. However, it not only requires the strings to accompany the oboe, but it  also showcases true ensemble playing. This piece is expressive of a wide range of emotion, and ends cheerfully.

 

Gabriel”s Oboe”, by Ennio Morricone, 1986, the main theme for the film “The Mission”, was next. A “celebrated oboe melody”, it’s also been called “unforgettable”. As played by these Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players, it was evocative, lush, romantic and achingly lovely.

Deb Stevenson, oboist

Next the quartet presented “Quartet for English Horn, Violin, Viola and Strings”, 1971, by Jean Francaix, which begins with a “cheeky ragtime escapade”. Francaix is known for composing graceful, fresh and spontaneous work. The piece was pleasingly tonal, clear, well-projected, and elegant.

 

The penultimate 3 pieces were from Chicagoan James Stephenson’s lively and adventurous score for “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick”. Stephenson said he wrote the first segment presented, “Another Place, Another Time” while imagining “The excitement of 4 young children as they are about to head out on a great adventure”. The music itself is exciting, then awesome, then filled with excitement once again. The second portion performed, “The Harp”, was written to represent “The mystery of the forest”, and “With the strumming pizzicato…symbolizing the harp”. As played, the strings  actually sounded like a harp and the Quartet as a whole seemed to be calling across a lake. Finally, the third portion played, “Under the Rug”, humorously introduced, was rendered with the cello in particular seeming to ask “What was that?"

Steven Houser, Rose Armbrust Griffin, Deb Stevenson, and Thomas Yang

The last work played at this concert was Danish composer Jacob Gade’s “Jalousie Tango Tzigane” or Gypsy Tango”, 1925, said by the composer to have been written after reading a sensational news report about a crime of jealous passion. Among the many films it’s been included in are “Son of Zorro”, (1925) starring Douglas Fairbanks, and “The Man Who Cried”, 2000, starring Johnny Depp as a gypsy. Tango music has lately become quite popular, and one can see why- it is passionate, sexy, demonstrative.

 

The Metropolis Oboe Quartet has played together for 13 years, although Rose Armbrust Griffin, viola player, replaced her brother, violist Doyle Armbrust, just 3 years ago. The Quartet's players are noted for their exceptional virtuosity in offering elegant and “accessible” programs, and this one was no exception. The presentation was technically excellent but also relaxed, friendly and fun. In between the selections, the members joked gently with the audience. They were effortlessly informative about the music to be presented, briefly discussing the background and characteristics of each piece, much as I have attempted to do in this article. In particular, they explained, displayed, passed around, and read captions from the illustrations that form the “text” of “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick”. The data and these maneuvers greatly enhanced the audience's capacity to understand and "hear" what was played.

Steven Houser, cellist; Deb Stevenson, oboist; Thomas Yang, violinist; Rose Armbrust Griffin, violist

 This was an afternoon of much delight, and an experience everybody can share.

For information about and tickets to the Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players series concerts and all the great programs sponsored by the Chicago Philharmonic, go to the Chicago Philharmonic website

 

For information about the Metropolis Oboe Quartet and it’s upcoming performances, go to the Metropolis Quartet website

 

 Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of The Metropolis Oboe Quartet

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