Last Tuesday the Ronen Chamber Ensemble capped its season by presenting two works brand new to its Indiana History Center Theater audience: a piano-wind sextet by a pre-advertised “mystery” composer — an obscure late-Romantic — the other the debut performance of a work by one of our own. Composer, jazz pianist and University of Indianapolis faculty member Christopher Rutkowski just completed Passages, Trio for clarinet, cello and piano, and Ronen regulars David Bellman, Ingrid Fischer-Bellman and Richard Ratliff gave the work its first life in sound.
The program began with its one “old” offering, Bohuslav Martinu’s Duo (or Duet) No. 2 for violin and cello (1958), one of the Czech composer’s final works before his 1959 death. At that point an undeniable master in his craft, Martinu poured his new wine into Stravinsky’s neo-classic bottle, putting a Czech folk tinge on the Russian intellectual’s rhythmically modern tonality. Violinist Margaret Jones paired with Fischer-Bellman in producing an altogether perfect blend, vibrant in the outer movements and simply beautiful in the slow one. Jones, a founding member of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, is a first-rate chamber player and should clearly be engaged in this series more often.
With Passages, Rutkowski delivers another winner — repeating his 2002 success in this series. Our performers pulled from its first movement, “Halaka,” some Mediterranean “orientalisms” coupled with a jazzy, bouncy feel, Bellman adding (purposefully) a few clarinet flutters to the mix. The composer’s ensuing “Lament” begins with a lovely cello line which heads an ensemble progression with varying dynamics; it nonetheless remains movingly somber throughout. The contrasting final movement, “Dancing … on the Eight-Spoked Wheel,” beams with optimism as Ratliff begins with a rhythmically repeated low D (if my pitch sense isn’t fooling me) and ends on a similarly repeated D-flat.
In between, the ensemble provides a light, sprightly interplay. The “author” of the Ronen mystery selection, given as Sextet in B-flat, Op. 6 — along with other hints posted on the lobby walls — would be obvious enough to any music-lit major or professional wind player. For most in attendance, the challenge was too great, but 13 people successfully identified Austrian composer Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907). At any rate, clarinetist Bellman was joined by pianist Sylvia Patterson-Scott, flutist Rebecca Arrensen, oboist Roger Roe, bassoonist Mark Ortwein and hornist Richard Graef for a well-prepared account of this ingratiating work — Brahmsian in its first two movements, more folk-like in the final two.