This past Saturday evening, the Ritz Chamber Players made their Atlanta debut at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at Morehouse College, performing music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Margaret Bonds, André Previn and Antonin Dvořák. The Jacksonville-based ensemble’s mission, stated on its website, is “to foster the appreciation of chamber music through performances and educational outreach featuring preeminent African-American musicians and composers, with an emphasis on building audiences and arts inclusion that reflects our diverse society.”
The concert opened with Coleridge-Taylor’s Clarinet Quintet in F-sharp minor, Op. 10 (1895) performed by clarinetist Terrance Patterson (the ensemble’s founder and executive/artistic director), violinists Kyle Lombard and Amyr Joyner, violist Richard Brice and cellist Tahirah Whittington.
Coleridge-Taylor’s quintet has many affinities for the chamber music of Dvořák — not so much Dvořák’s melodic material as overall style, absent the Slavic character. The story, possibly apocryphal, is that Coleridge-Taylor’s teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, Charles V. Stanford, challenged that no composer could write a clarinet quintet without being influenced by the quintet of Brahms. So Coleridge-Taylor took up the challenge and wrote his.
Next up, soprano Alison Buchanan and pianist Terrence Wilson performed Bonds’ “Three Dream Portraits,” a cycle on poems of Langston Hughes that might well be the most popular of her art songs, though they are more than moderately difficult. Whittington returned to the stage to join them for Previn’s “Four Songs” on texts by Toni Morrison.
Buchanan handled the sweep and drama of the two-song sets with ease and clear delivery of the poetry, while Wilson managed well the often rhythmically complex piano parts. In Previn’s songs, Whittington’s cello lent fresh character as the third element in the musical mix, sometimes like a second vocal line, sometimes bopping along in pizzicato.
After intermission, the quartet of strings and pianist Wilson returned to perform Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, giving it an engaging, full-bodied performance.
The Ritz Chamber Players are scheduled to make a return appearance on Saturday, May 24. For those who have never been to the four-year-old Ray Charles PAC, its 550-seat Adams Concert Hall is a delightful discovery that deserves to be counted among Atlanta’s premiere venues.
Earlier in the day, the Atlanta Flute Club held its annual Flute Fair in the Fine Arts building of Perimeter College’s Clarkston campus. The day-long event included workshops, concerts, repertoire readings and vendor exhibits related to the metro area’s community of flutists and their students.
Among the proceedings was a midafternoon recital by the Flute Fair’s featured guest artist, flutist Nicole Esposito, with Atlanta-based collaborative pianist Tim Whitehead. Esposito and Whitehead performed music by Georges Barrère, Eugène Bozza, Gabriel Fauré, Gabriel Grovlez and two works by another featured guest, Philadelphia-based composer Daniel Dorff.
Esposito, who plays a 14k Miyazawa flute and a Hammig piccolo, is flute professor at the University of Iowa. Although Perimeter College’s 500-seat Marvin Cole Auditorium is indeed a “multipurpose auditorium” with all the sonic shortcomings that implies — including the ongoing loud rumble of the mechanical systems that underscored everything — Esposito’s performance felt flexible and attractively nuanced.
Most of the recital repertoire was of familiar French extraction, as is often the case with flute recitals. Included were the impressionistic “Nocturne” by Barrère, published in 1913; Bozza’s five-minute unaccompanied “Image” of 1939; Fauré’s “Fantasie,” one of the great classics of flute repertoire that shows off the instrument well; and the “Romance et scherzo” by Grovlez, one of Fauré’s proteges.
That was followed by two works by Dorff, whose name Atlantans may recognize as the composer of “Stone Soup,” a children’s opera that the Atlanta Opera performed in community settings during the 2012–2013 season. A saxophonist turned clarinetist, Dorff developed professional friendships with many flutists and over time found himself in growing demand as composer of flute music.
Dorff admits that his unobtrusive neoclassical style in these works is influenced by French Conservatoire flute traditions. In both his “Three Lakes” Sonata for flute and piano and the shorter, older “Sonantine di Giverny” for piccolo and piano, which closed the program, Dorff’s music did not deign to wrestle with the ear, eschewing abject stridency even when offering up flourishes to flaunt the flutist’s technical capacity.