Review: Picosa Offers Quintets of Strings and Air

With the addition of a violinist and violist, members of the Picosa ensemble presented Strings and Air, an evening of flute and clarinet quintets at DePaul’s Allen Auditorium on Tuesday evening. Picosa members Jennie OH Brown on flute, Andrea R DiOrio on clarinet, Elizabeth Brausa Braithwaite on violin, and Paula Kosower on cello teamed up with violinist Kate Carter and violist Bruno Silver to present a great program spanning the late 18th century to modern times.

It started with flute quintets by contemporary Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas and American composer Amy Beach. It then concluded with one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A-major, K.581.

While there were many enjoyable moments on Tuesday night, the problem was they just weren’t ready, as evident from their rehearsing until the concert was scheduled to start at 7pm. It wasn’t enough. These are extremely talented players, but they needed more time to get out some of the performance kinks and to improve their ensemble sound.

Jennie Oh Brown. Photo by Forestt Strong Lafave.

It started great with Thomas’ meditation, Plea for Peace. Scored for wordless soprano and string quartet, Picosa substituted Brown’s flute for the soprano. It starts with a lush opening with long notes and a subtle buildup as melodies emerge. Brown’s flute sang over the string quartet, which seemed well coordinated. Their vibratos were perfect and the sound was lush.

Following this was an interesting set of variations over a very lengthy theme by Beach. The slow theme goes through lots of different moods and feelings, while staying very expressive. Beach called on some very unexpected harmonic changes.

The string quartet started things off with Brown entering with a brief solo in the first variation. On the whole, the performance was good, although things seemed to lag a bit in some of the slower sections.

After a quick set change to substitute a clarinet for flute, DiOrio and the string quartet embarked on Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. This is where the need for rehearsal seemed most manifest. Although DiOrio was fabulous, the string quartet just didn’t quite sing well together. Things seemed a bit muffled, as if the strings were muted. The start and end of phrases were occasionally out of unison. Instruments seemed to go in and out of tune as melodies sounded, suggesting that a string or two was ever so slightly flat.

While still enjoyable, the performance lacked polish and shine. Even great ensembles have off nights. I look forward to future concerts.

The next opportunity is Sunday afternoon, May 28, when Picosa performs several modern and contemporary works at Epiphany Center for the Arts, 201 S Ashland Ave, at 2pm. For ticket information, click here.

Louis Harris
Louis Harris

A lover of music his whole life, Louis Harris has written extensively from the early days of punk and alternative rock. More recently he has focused on classical music, especially chamber ensembles. He has reviewed concerts, festivals, and recordings and has interviewed composers and performers. He has paid special attention to Chicago’s rich and robust contemporary art music scene. He occasionally writes poetry and has a published novel to his credit, 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington, DC. He now lives on the north side of Chicago, which he considers to be the greatest city in the country, if not the world.