The Missouri Chamber Music Festival concluded its ninth season on Saturday night at the E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall at Washington University’s 560 Music Center. The founders and co-artistic directors, pianist Nina Ferrigno and her husband, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra principal clarinet Scott Andrews, didn’t perform at this concert, but they were very much in evidence.
The program was a mixed bag of music that wasn’t always satisfying but never failed to be interesting. All of it was written, performed or both by composer-harpist Hannah Lash.
It opened with Lash’s “Frayed,” for string quartet. The MOCM assembled a first-rate ensemble with three SLSO players — first violin Angie Smart, assistant principal second violin Eva Kozma and viola Chris Tantillo — and cello Davin Rubicz. Lash composed it in 2009 while in graduate school, filling it with musical tensions and collisions as the music abruptly starts and stops. It held attention and received a fine performance.
Next came Lash’s “Folksongs” for flute, percussion, and harp, a set of four folk-ish melodies invented “for an imaginary culture.” The ensemble — SLSO second flute Jennifer Nitchman on piccolo, Michael Campitello on a variety of percussion instruments, and Lash on harp — made a good argument for the piece. The movements are variously intriguing and melodic, with a pretty tune for the piccolo in the third, and a short, flowing segment to close.
The biggest work in the first half was also the most problematic, as Lash undertook her own transcription of Robert Schumann’s Fantasie in C major, Op. 17. Even as originally written for piano, it’s a huge challenge for the performer; its dense textures played on the harp made for a lot of muddy sounds. Lash, who played it from memory, got lost in the middle of the second movement and had to start again in a different part; even then, it sounded messy and uncertain, with a lot of errors and hesitations.
The best moment of the evening began the second half, with a piece not on the printed program: Claude Debussy’s “Syrinx” for solo flute, flawlessly played by Nitchman from the center stairwell. Then Campitello played “Start,” for solo snare drum, a brief work written for him by Lash, that showed off his impressive skills on an instrument that’s more difficult than you might think.
Nitchman, Tantillo and Lash concluded the program with Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. It was the second of a projected set of six sonatas for varied instruments that ended with the third and Debussy’s death. It’s a beautiful, complex work, expressing a variety of moods with music that’s a mix of old styles, modern harmonies and Asian-influenced elements.
The trio had a solid connection and excellent balance; the piece was well-played throughout, for a fitting ending to another season by an important young St. Louis institution.