March 4, 2017
A mostly French program played by
the top-drawer (if slightly oddball) Les
Amies Trio, based in New York, made
for a perfect afternoon on the San
Antonio Chamber Music Society
concert series, Feb. 26 in Temple
Oddball? Only in instrumentation. The
three players first came together for a
performance of Debussy’s Sonata for
Flute, Viola and Harp, and the
chemistry was right for a continuing
collaboration. (As it happens, the
Debussy was the capstone of this
One member of Les Amies is familiar
hereabouts, and just about everywhere
else, as well. That would be the
extraordinary flutist Carol Wincenc,
who last visited (if memory serves) in
2006 as a member of the New York
Woodwind Quintet. Her partners,
harpist Nancy Allen and violist Cynthia
Phelps, are both principal players with
the New York Philharmonic.
Each of these personable three spoke
briefly between pieces. Ms. Phelps
mentioned that the viola she was
playing was on loan from the NY Phil.
It was eminently deserving of special
notice. The instrument was made in
the late 16th century by Gasparo Bertolotti (called Gasparo da Salò, for his birthplace in Lombardy). I can’t recall ever hearing a more sumptuous, silken, dark-chocolate sound from a viola. Ms. Phelps proved fully worthy of the instrument. She brought out a plethora of colors, deftly shaded dynamics, and showed remarkable rhythmic acuity.
In the second movement of the Debussy, the viola’s low register recalled the voice of Sarah Vaughan, and in the third Ms. Phelps spat out some deliciously gutsy low notes du talon – played at the bow’s frog.
Ms. Allen’s flinty clarity (like a true Chablis) and Ms. Wincenc’s care with phrase shaping came to the fore in Maurice Ravel’s Sonatine en trio (an arrangement by the harpist Carlos Salzedo of the Sonatine for piano solo). The concert also afforded a rare hearing of music by Arnold Bax. His Elegiac Trio, more ruminative than mournful and given to modal harmonies, is similar in feel to music by Bax’s older contemporary and fellow Brit, Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Several works were scored for just one or two players. Francois Devienne’s Duo in C Minor for flute and viola was not music of great depth – like much small-scale French baroque music, it seemed intended to acompany party chatter – but it was highly virtuosic and enjoyable. Gabriel Fauré’s Après un rêve for viola and harp was a cool breeze in the warm sun, and the same composer’s Impromptu in D-flat for harp elicited a crisp, emphatic performance from Ms. Allen.
The concert opened with a colorful set by Jacques Ibert. The first of his Two Interludes after a Carillon (for flute, harp and viola) was a pastoral piece showing the influence of JS Bach in its counterpoint. The second evoked Spain, as did the Entr’acte for flute and harp.
The performances were consistently taut, confident and poised. Especially notable, and surprising, was the melding of the flute and viola timbres.
Les Amies Trio: Nancy Allen, Carol Wincenc, Cynthia Phelps