KSO chamber musicians bring in Christmas charm

Harold DuckettArts 865, Feature

American composer David Maslanka, who died last year at 74, was long fascinated by J.C. Bach’s Chorales. So much so that he began each day singing and playing them as a warm-up for the day’s composing work.

The Knoxville Symphony’s Wind Quintet began Wednesday’s Q Series concert at the Emporium Building by playing Maslanka’s “Quintet for Winds No. 3,” written in 1999.

The first two movements began with a Bach-like chorale, “Ihr Gestim ihr hohem Lufte,” (“Your stars, your cavernous sky”), and went through several variations, delightfully played by the quintet, before ending with another chorale, “Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht” (“Christ, you are day and light”).

The second movement began in the same way. But the chorale became the background for an extended flute solo, gorgeously played by Hannah Hammel. Lovely flute melodies and flourishes dissolved into the background of the other instruments, followed by another long, languid melodic line that ended the same way. At moments, the flute was contrasted by short, staccato phrases in both Gary Sperl’s clarinet and Aaron Apaza’s bassoon. At other moments the hymn-like chorale tune resurfaced. It was warm, intimate playing.

The third movement switched gears to fast-paced playing. There were sputtering, galloping phrases, spiraling lines, arpeggios and trills, especially by Sperl’s clarinet.

There were also glowing phrases played by Jeffery Whaley’s horn, along with some abrupt outbursts. The piece came to a comical conclusion that danced around, spinning and skipping.

The second half of the program switched to Baroque Italian music played by the KSO Principal Quartet.

They began with a movement from Giuseppe Torelli’s “Concerto Grosso,” Op. 8, No. 6, in a set of 12 concerti grosso. Written in 1709, the year Torelli died at only 51, it is subtitled “Concerto in the form of a pastoral for the sacred birth,” but commonly known as the “Christmas Concerto.”

Torelli was a virtuoso violinist, as well as composer. Like the first five concerti in this group, this one highlights the playing of the two violins. It was wonderfully played by violinists Gordon Tsai and Edward Pulgar.

It was a warm-up for Francesco Manfredini’s “Concerto Grosso,” Op. No. 12, also subtitled “Pastorale per il Santissimo Natale.” Torelli’s star pupil, Manfredini’s concerto was also a showcase for the gifts of Tsai and Pulgar, with Kathryn Gawne’s viola and Andy Bryenton’s cello playing mostly supporting roles.

The favorites of the near-sold-out crowd, however were traditional holiday pieces arranged for the quartet by Terry Wilson, director of music at First United Methodist Church in Maryville.

The first was an endearing version of the somber “In the Bleak Midwinter,” followed by a jazzy take on “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”

Q Series concerts take place at noon and are held to an hour as a lunchtime break. They have moved to the lower level of the Emporium Center for Arts and Culture at 100 S. Gay St., where the KSO has its offices.

The music, always well performed by the KSO’s two chamber music ensembles, frequently features pieces audiences don’t often get to hear performed live.

More information about upcoming Q Series concerts, as well as everything else the KSO does, can be found here.

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