Los Angeles Music Review: CAMERATA PACIFICA (Season 28; Concert 1)

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by Tony Frankel on September 27, 2017

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Well, lightning can strike twice in the same piece. Three years ago, the glittering Santa Barbara-based chamber music ensemble Camerata Pacifica premiered its commissioned String Trio by John Harbison. That, and the stunning Harmonia Mundi CD recording, cemented this awesome work as a major addition to the already limited string trio canon.

Harbison’s inspiration was the six-movement structure of Mozart’s Divertimento in E flat, K563. The six movements in this surprisingly rich work—far more accessible than Carter or Schoenberg—lasts thirty minutes. The thematic material—taken from musical spellings of Lionel Messi’s name (Harbison wrote that the Argentine professional footballer is the “Mozart of soccer”)—has the most extraordinary dramatic role-playing between instruments, and never shies from giving the viola star time.

The most thrilling aspect was to hear counterpoint in dissonance and have it be sweet-sounding and agreeable. Two of the original trio members from the highly recommended album—Richard O’Neill, viola and Ani Aznavoorian, cello—were joined by violinist Paul Huang (who performed Harbison’s Four Songs of Solitude on the CD), and they thundered through the piece with precision, strength, and finesse.

Huang and Aznavoorian returned after intermission with pianist Inna Faliks for a triumphant rendering of Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67. The 1944 piece, written just after his Symphony No. 8, with which it shares its overall structure, is remarkable for two main reasons. It is a lamentation for both Shostakovich’s close friend, musicologist Ivan Sollertinsky, and the victims of the Holocaust, the news of which horror did not reach the U.S.S.R. until the liberation of the camps began; and it is his first work to employ a “Jewish theme,” a musical tribute that used the scales and rhythms of Jewish folk music as Shostakovich knew it.

For the Camerata players to evoke emotion while excavating Shostakovich’s sharper vocabulary of musical images, figures, and gestures was remarkable. Aznavoorian’s performance on the introduction to the work—a bare-bones line on high cello harmonics—was absolutely chilling and uplifting at the same time. But that opening despair became an almost athletic joy. Faliks’ mash-up of sensitivity and pure fury brought a heightened relevance to this rarely performed, beautifully complex stunner. A simply enthralling performance!

Opening the program at the Huntington Library during Season 28’s opening concert week was Prokofiev’s Sonata for Flute & Piano in D Major, Op. 94 (1943). This popular sonata highlights the beauty and virtuosic breadth of the flute, but it’s a monster-of-a-piece for breath control. As if its extreme range isn’t enough, the flutist navigates through Prokofiev’s striking chromaticism and tonal shading. The challenging flute part is jam-packed with attractive and interesting melodic themes, and is easily among the most difficult (and revered) in the flute repertory.

As if adhering to notes from David Oistrakh, the violinist for whom the flute sonata was later transcribed, Artistic Director Adrian Spence—whose intro into the evening gave us emotional and historical context—offered an inner purity of purpose and remarkable simplicity while avoiding superfluousness and exaggerated emotion. At times, he seemed a bit overzealous, and I would have preferred a more buttery and charming quality than the intense top notes we were offered, but the breathy triplets were as fascinating to watch as a gymnast’s routine. The emotion came from Faliks, whose expressive, spirited, curious interactions brought life to even the conventional accompaniment patterns of the four-movement piece.

The 2017/18 season is just beginning, and you have four opportunities per concert—Ventura, San Marino, Downtown L.A., and Santa Barbara—to catch this wonderful advocate for live chamber music.

Sunday, October 15 | 3:00 p.m., Ventura
Tuesday, October 17 | 7:30 p.m., San Marino
Thursday, October 19 | 8:00 p.m., Los Angeles
Friday, October 20 | 7:30 p.m., Santa Barbara

Vine Inner World
Kraft Encounters V, for Cello & Percussion,
“In the Morning of the Winter Sea”
Cage In a Landscape
Golijov Mariel
Mendelssohn Songs Without Words for Oboe & Harp
Bruce The Consolation of Rain

photos courtesy of Camerata Pacifica

Camerata Pacifica
Season 28, Concert 1
played September 10-15, 2017
reviewed September 12, 2017 at the Huntington Library in San Marino
for future tickets, call 805.884.8410 or visit Camerata Pacifica

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