in: Reviews

November 5, 2017

CK Ensemble: Results and Promise

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CK Ensemble, a trio consisting of flute, cello, and piano, debuted Friday in Slosberg Recital Hall at Brandeis. The “CK” stands for Cherry Kim, the enterprising cellist who has gathered flutist Elzbieta Brandys and pianist Daesik Cha into the new group. Apparently all three have recently completed the final stages of academic music study, during which time they gained a great deal of experience gigging, but now they want to make performance plans on their own hook with a fixed ensemble that can grow in repertory and experience. The promising results augur welcome future encounters.

Employing flute as the treble instrument with cello and piano is less commonly encountered than the more familiar violin, but the performers have located attractive and challenging music that calls for it. In the 18th century, the flute was often regarded as the instrument of choice for gentlemen, while the violin was more often performed by professional musicians or, socially, by women. Haydn’s Trio in D (Hob. XV:16), composed shortly before his first trip to London, makes effective use of the three instruments, each given suitable leading roles at some point. CK gave fine shape to the intertwining musical lines and sensitive articulation to bring them to life.

The Sonata in D Major by Johann Gottfried Müthel, who links his earlier generation of the late Baroque with that of the high classical composers, retained the character or the solo sonata of the Baroque, with a leading instrument (here the flute) accompanied by a “modern” continuo of piano and cello. Kim and Cha served this largely accompanimental function with grace and responsive dynamics to support the flowing and virtuosic lines of Brandys’s flute.

A bit of a surprise came in the first movement of Mendelssohn’s popular Trio No. 1 in D Minor, which I have never heard performed by a trio with a flute in the treble position. But it turns out that this arrangement was produced by Mendelssohn himself as an alternative to the more standard violin-based trio. The single movement offered pleasantly varied alternative sonority in this especially familiar work. The players attacked with strong passion, as befits one of the Mendelssohn’s most dramatic scores. The CK Ensemble plans to perform the full work in the new year when the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata is not on hand to take up the entire second half.

The remarkable, challenging, and beautiful Cello Sonata by Rachmaninoff, composed at the very beginning of the 20th century, occupied the entire second half. Large and demanding, it places great demands on the cellist. And the piano part, written for Rachmaninoff himself, calls for unusual flexibility and strength. Composed and premiered almost simultaneously with the ever-popular Piano Concerto No. 2, the sonata is filled with the same kind of swelling emotion, deep interiority, especially in its slow movement, and passionate flowing lines. Kim and Cha were well matched in carrying out its demands, not simply maintaining basic ensemble, but also expressively, sharing the expressive swelling, virtuous outbursts, and suspended gestures that seem about to cause one to hold one/s breath until the hushed tension is released. This was intense and pleasing romanticism.

As a first encounter with a brand-new ensemble, the concert proved satisfying, both in its accomplishment and in its promise.

Steven Ledbetter is a free-lance writer and lecturer on music. He got his BA from Pomona College and PhD from NYU in Musicology. He taught at Dartmouth College in the 1970s, then became program annotator at the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1997.

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