Over its first two seasons, the QCSO chamber series has become an aural respite from the symphony’s heavier classical series. Two things make the series special. First, the orchestra’s best players participate. Invariably, this means the performance will be high-quality. Because chamber music is much smaller, performers get an opportunity to explore an individual voice, offering their own interpretations without the guidance of Maestro Donald Schleicher. Second, the performers pick their own music. This has led to concerts that are overflowing with life, wrought with passion, and aimed directly at the soul. Any concert might feature minimalism, baroque, late romantic, or neo-classical pieces. American composers might mix with German composers.
The October 20 concert epitomized the best of the chamber series. The first half featured Johannes Brahms’ Trio in A Minor for Clarinet, Cello, & Piano. The second half offered divergent works, Arthur Foote’s Night Piece for Flute and String Quintet and Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No. 5 in D Major.
The Brahms Trio set the tone perfectly. One of his later works, the Trio is cautiously introspective. Each movement is tempered by comparison to other works. Unfortunately, the strange acoustics of Augustana College’s Wallenberg Hall gave the performance an unbalanced sound despite the unified playing of the trio members. Molly Paccione was remarkable on the clarinet, and Charles Wendt provided a suitable counter.
After intermission, a new assortment of orchestra members came out and performed Foote’s Night Piece. At only eight minutes, the piece felt too short but was a perfect bridge between the darker Brahms Trio and the Brandenberg Concerto; it helped create the effect of a musical journey from darkness to light. The flute work anchored the piece but was laudable for its dexterity.
Finishing the afternoon, an ensemble performed the tried-and-true Brandenberg Concerto No. 5. Buoyant and with the feel of 18th Century jazz, the work lifted the sparse audience out of the more meditative mood of the earlier pieces. During the Allegro, however, the ensemble seemed to lose its cohesiveness; at times, the music was cacophonous and borderline dissonant, and the ragged moments were not confined to the first movement. Occasionally, the ensemble would get lost in the music and would have to reconvene. But, despite this, Mary Neil performed one of the most enchanting harpsichord solos I have ever heard.
The October QCSO chamber concert can be best described as transitional – darkness to light, resignation to acceptance, and even despair to joy. The three pieces fit nicely with the crisp autumn air, and the motley colors adorning Augustana’s trees, as seasons shift.