On Sunday afternoon, the Atlanta Chamber Players performed a concert of music by Louis Spohr, Nino Rota and Ludwig van Beethoven at Spivey Hall, vying for attention against the day’s remarkable spring-like weather.
The audience was somewhat modest in size but warmly receptive, willing to forgo the temptations of temperate weather to hear the performance. The players, founded in 1976 by pianist and Artistic Managing Director Paula Peace, include four members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
The concert opened with Spohr’s “Six German Songs,” Op. 103, sung by soprano Ann Marie McPhail, in her first performance with the Atlanta Chamber Players, with clarinetist Laura Ardan and Peace as pianist. McPhail is a native Atlantan who is on the faculty of Talladega College in Alabama and made her career debut at the Houston Ebony Opera as the Countess in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” She was a winner of the Rose-Palmai Tenser Vocal Competition, was “Diva Goddess” at the Closing Ceremony of the 1996 Olympic Games, and sang the role of Strawberry Woman in the Atlanta Opera’s 2011 production of “Porgy and Bess.”
McPhail’s voice is warm and clear, easily filling Spivey Hall. At the peak of dynamic range, it was almost too much for the 400-seat space, while quiet passages were very carefully nuanced and articulated. Ardan’s melodiously liquid clarinet obbligatos made a good companion for McPhail’s voice.
The German texts and English translations were printed in the program, but there were no notes; McPhail gave oral notes before each song. While the most pragmatic solution, this somewhat broke the flow of the set from one song to the next.
Spohr’s “Six German Songs” were written in 1837 for the princess of Sounderhausen, who sought the composition of songs for soprano accompanied by clarinet and piano. They were very successful in Spohr’s day but survive more as part of the clarinet repertoire than that of singers. They are worth further exploration by singers and vocal pedagogues.
Next up was Rota’s Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano. Alcides Rodriguez was the clarinetist, with cellist Brad Ritchie and Peace returning as pianist. Rota was best known for his film scores, more than 150 of them, including for Fellini and Visconti. Americans are more likely, however, to recognize his music for Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” and “The Godfather, Part II,” the last winning him an Academy Award for Best Original Score.
This trio is from late in Rota’s life, 1973, six years before his death. It’s a lively, energetically sunny piece with much melodic interest and appeal, all of which the performance conveyed well.
The concert closed with an ACP staple, the Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70, No. 1 by Beethoven, nicknamed the “Ghost” Trio. Ritchie returned as cellist with two performers who had not yet taken the stage, violinist John Meisner and guest pianist Elena Cholakova. They and the audience alike engaged this familiar work with due enthusiasm.