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OCP: Haydn, Bohmler, Schumann

Haydn: String Quartet in D Major, Op. 64, No. 5
Craig Bohmler: Five Pieces after Shakespeare
Schumann: Piano Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 47

Annaliese Kowert, violin
Sarah Kishinevsky, violin
Laura Detert, viola
Deanna Simonson, cello
Marilyn Chohaney, flute and piccolo
Jennifer Morgan, oboe and English horn
Nancy Mackenzie, clarinet and bass clarinet
Anne Aley, horn
Carl Davick, double bass
Leyla Sanyer, violin
Katrin Talbot, viola
Warren Downs, cello
Karen Zaczek Hill, piano


Before an audience of about 100, the Oakwood Chanmber players concluded its current season with the premiere of Craig Bohmler's Five Pieces after Shakespeare. commissioned by the ensemble, and Robert Schumann's Piano Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 47.

The program began with the first movement of Haydn's String Quartet in D Major, Op. 64, No. 5, the "Lark" quartet, very well played by violinists Annaliese Kowert and Sarah Kishinevsky, violist Laura Detert, and cellist Deanna Simonson, who are all members of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. As part of its outreach effort, the Oakwood group supports and coaches these young players in chamber-music performance. This is certainly not easy music, and both violinists played with particular distinction, I thought.

The Bohmler piece has a certain theatricality, not surprising in view of the inspiration of each of its five movements in one the Bard's major plays. Scored for flute/piccolo (Marilyn Chohaney), oboe/english horn (Jennifer Morgan), clarinet/bass clarinet (Nancy Mackenzie), french horn (Anne Aley), and double bass (Carl Davick), the work opens with an short processional before getting down to the main business. The style is solidly tonal, with some dissonances thrown in for spice, but hanging together agreeably. It's melodically and rhythmically engaging music, at times providing hints of Mahler and Shostakovich. Its high point comes in the third movement, "Catherine's Sarabande," a modern lyric based on a Welsh folksong, with delicate orchestration and a satisfying lyrical climax. The audience received it very warmly and the players obviously enjoyed it.

After intermission, the Schumann was troubled by rather insecure playing overall, including a false start in the scherzo, as well as by a serious dynamic imbalance that placed the very prominent piano part much too far in the background. The ensemble comprised violinist Leyla Sanyer, violist Katrin Talbot, cellist Warren Downs, and pianist Karen Zaczek Hill. The piano is apparently new, which might explain its not having an especially bright timbre. However, Hill's dynamic range extended only from pianissmo to mezzoforte, hardly suitable to the work's large-scale brilliance, which necessarily involves substantial amounts of forte and fortissimo playing. As a result, the major foundation of the score was at best only weakly present, creating a somewhat aimless quality to efforts by the rest of the ensemble. It's a great piece, and it was disappointing that such a large miscalculation befell it in this instance.

Isthmus, May, 1998
Copyright 1998 Jess Anderson

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