Music Review: CAMERATA PACIFICA (September 2022)

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by Tony Frankel on September 28, 2022

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Remaining the best salon ensemble in Los Angeles, Camerata Pacifica offers seven programs a year, each curated by Artistic Director Adrian Spence. It is to his credit that each program is chockablock with crackerjack selections from the classical canon, both new and old. Utilizing Camerata Pacifica’s fervent principal players, occasionally with guests, you won’t find better renderings of salon music. Old works sound new again, and new pieces are made accessible from the first listen (the choice to veer from atonal works helps as well).

Each program plays at four venues sprinkled across Southern California (Santa Barbara, Ventura, the Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles, and San Marino (near Pasadena) at the Huntington Library, which is where I enjoyed the first concert of the 2022/23 season last night. The scents of the glorious gardens filled the air, a perfect greeting before entering the theater for yet another winning program, starting with the rarely played, if ever recorded, Trio for Oboe, Cello and Piano.


Written in 1943 by Sergei Prokofiev as a flute sonata, and later a violin sonata in 1944, this version for oboe was transcribed by Russian-American composer-pianist Lera Auerbach in 2015. Written at the same time as his amazing film score for Ivan the Terrible, the sonata is rooted in the Classical style, and retains its romanticism in Auerbach’s arrangement, which nonetheless took some getting used to. Even as she successfully adds counterpoint between oboe and cello in all four movements, it worked best in the lyrical, pastoral, melancholic third movement, Andante. The second, Scherzo: Presto — insisting, exciting, frolicsome — is when the arrangement worked best with complimentary voices. It’s a real workout, but the most it seems for Principal Clarinetist Nicholas Daniel, who reminded me that the oboe mimics yet goes so much farther than the human voice as he proffered remarkably distincive trills. By God, but he amazed; I barely had the breath control to watch his performance! (And I loved the Rothko-esque shirt he wore.) Pianist Irina Zahharenkova handled all the quickly shifting moods deftly, and impressed with her fingering on the stacatto triplets (sounds like a Vaudeville act, huh?). Principal Cellist Ani Aznavoorian, who looked simply dazzling in a sparkling, almost iridescent, green dress, ratched up the energy in the fourth, Allegro con brio, adding to the flavor of a festive, robust, and intrepid homecoming.¬†This unlikely combination of instruments, while not to my “taste”, reminded me how Camerata Pacifica always includes adventurous works for us to ponder, study, or just enjoy. (Derek Katz‘s copious program notes give incredible context to the pieces.)


Max Bruch is best-known by large classical audiences for his violin concerto, but how often do we get to hear his equally popular Kol Nidrei, one of his most famous compositions, in an intimate setting live? Written in 1880 for the cellist Robert Hausmannhe, the melancholy “Adagio after Hebrew melodies” sings two old Jewish songs using the tenor cello sound as the voice of a Jewish cantor. The remarkable¬† Ms. Aznavoorian, truly one of the world’s greatest (don’t doubt me!), actually did make her instrument sing, with sobbing falling intervals voyaging straight to the heart with increasing intensity, drawing astounding volume from her strings. Her combination of virtuosity, spirit and warmth has her simply outclassing her contemporaries. (Gems from Armenia, her latest album with her sister, pianist Marta, is a stunner.) And now, Ms. Zahharenkova’s piano, which more or less supported the players in the Prokofiev, stood out as well in a rich, lyrical vein during her lovely solo.

The air was hushed and still during Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov‘s Postludium No. 3 for Cello and Piano. It’s heart-stopping beauty is so timeless that I was surprised to learn this other-worldly meditation was written in 1982. The elegiac strains seemed to represent the passing of something which was loved dearly. Ms. Aznavoorian and Ms. Zahharenkova played with such sorrow, affection and sensitiveness that I found myself teary.


In lieu of an interval, Mr. Spence took to the stage with an imassioned speech, reminding us that three of the pieces were Soviet based, and as Spence avowed (and I second), it is a ridiculous notion to stop playing them because Putin poisonously pounced on Ukraine. He spoke of a recent trip to Berlin, mentioning that German poet Heinrich Heine once observed that wherever books are burned, people are burned, too, in the end. (Heine’s words turned out to be prophetic, as his own books would be burnt by the Nazis during the 1930s.) It’s rather synchronomous that we heard some music by composers who lived under repression the same week that Ken Burns’ harrowing documentary about The Holocuast premiered on PBS.

(Backstage photo from Tereza Stanislav's Instagram page)

The final work of the night, completed mere months before the Nazi atrocities came to light in the Soviet union, was the Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor in four movements by Dmitri Shostakovich. The fourth movement also incorporates a Jewish tune, a “cheerful melody built on sad intonations” per Shostakovich; listen for the ghostly echoes of klezmer music. Joining the estimable duo on violin was our own amazing and formidable Tereza Stanislav, Assistant Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and the most recent member of Los Angeles-based Calder String Quartet, looking lovely in a long cornflower-yellow dress. (It was at this point that i realized the fantastic stage lighting changed with each piece.) Equally bleak, gleeful, profoundly sad, and utterly madcap (a joyous waltz out of nowhere? Man, do I love this guy!), this anxiety-ridden work speaks to the enormity of the human being caged in someone else’s reality (the cello plays high, the violin low). The trio was performed once on November 14, 1944 and then, due to censorship, could not be played again for many years. The treatment here left me full of life, brittle but inspired.

previously published photos courtesy of Camerata Pacifica

Camerata Pacifica 2022/23 Season, September Program
reviewed at The Huntington, San Marino on September 27
two concerts remaining
Zipper Hall, The Colburn School, DTLA September 29, 8 p.m.
Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara September 30, 7.30 p.m.
for more info and tickets, visit Camerata Pacifica

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