The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players excel in trios by Haydn, Bartok and Brahms. They are new, but they deserve your attention. | January 27, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also provided the performance photos for this review. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

I have, so far, not followed carefully the work of the Mosaic Chamber Players (below).

But I certainly will from now on.

They are, to put it simply, among the finest purveyors of quality chamber music in Madison just now.

Mosaic 1 John W. Barker

The Mosaic group is currently in its second season. It was founded by pianist Jess Salek, along with four string-playing colleagues, and sometimes added guests. The group gives three performances each season, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The latest one was on Saturday evening in the original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium.

Salek was the anchor of continuity in all three of the works presented, playing with vigorous collegiality. At least the first two of the selections related to the concert’s announced theme of “The Gypsy Spirit!”

The first was Franz Joseph Haydn’s most familiar trio, the one in G major, for violin, cello and piano—most famous for its “Gypsy” rondo-finale. The performance was wonderful, and a particular showcase for violinist Wes Luke, who is himself emerging as one of Madison’s premier chamber musicians and who has been playing with the Ancora String Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the LaCrosse Symphony Orchestra  and the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra. His tender, nuanced playing in the second movement was particularly distinguished.

Mosaic 2 CPJohn W. Barker

Béla Bartók’s spikey and spunky Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, was composed for Benny Goodman and Joseph Szigeti.

For this, guest player Linda Bartley (below) was brought in. Former principal clarinetist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and a faculty member at the UW-Madison School of Music, Bartley is well-known for her artistry by now, and contributed pungent color to the performance.

Mosaic 4 Bartley clarinet John W. Barker

But Luke again drew attention for his brilliant playing: in fact, in the third movement, alternating on two differently tuned fiddles (with backup from a delightful young lady), and replacing his missing mute with a folded dollar bill.

Mosaic backup violin John W Barker

The final work was the Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano by Johannes Brahms. The first of his late “autumnal” chamber works for the clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld, it is a warm, big-hearted piece, bespeaking personal closeness as well as professional admiration. (A performance from the 2010 International Chamber Music Festival of the Clarinet Trio can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

In this, cellist Michael Allen (below) was able to show off his robust and rich playing as full partner to Bartley’s finely tailored clarinet role.

Mosaic 3 John W. Barker

This was, in sum, a superb program of music making, one to send the audience out into a winter night with a wonderful feeling of warm satisfaction.

The Mosaic Chamber Players give their next concert on April 25, with piano quintets by Johannes Brahms and Gabriel Fauré. Watch for it!

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