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Solomon: Marvelous End To Terrific Chamber Festival

on August 30, 2019 - 5:47pm
Los Alamos

The final performance of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival for this summer played to an almost full house at the Lensic Monday, Aug. 16.

The Dover Quartet (Joel Link and Brian Lee, violins, Milena Pajaro-Van de Stadt, viola, and Camden Shaw, cello) was featured, splitting into two different duos for the first half, the three gentlemen looking elegantly comfortable in white sports jackets over open-collar black shirts and slacks, the lady a pale, flowing bouquet with ruffles at her sweetheart neckline.

The opening number was a delightful violin/viola duet written by Norwegian violinist and composer Johann Halvorsen in 1894, based on the theme from Handel’s Suite No. 7 in G Minor (1720). (Halvorsen was a disciple of Greig, and married his niece.) It began almost quoting Handel, with the melody bouncing back and forth between instruments, following in increasingly divergent and imaginative improvisations of slow, sonorous, heartbreaking suspension and chromatic questioning. Lee and Pajaro-Van de Stadt did complete justice to this piece, difficult for performers while immediately enjoyable to audiences; and so we did!

Next, Link and Shaw brought us Hungarian Zoltan Kodaly’s Duo for Violin & Cello (1914), a substantial work gestated during the composer’s travels and exploration of the folk music of eastern Europe with his friend Bela Bartok.

Kodaly wrote it for two more close friends and colleagues, brilliant players whom he knew to be up to the most incredible technical challenges; and it remains the foremost example of the admittedly small repertoire for violin and cello alone. Repeatedly, a lyrical melody and pizzicato open fifths are traded between treble and bass, with the cello descending to menacing growls, then a rushing undercurrent to the violin’s steady drone. Harmonic context is often provided via pizzicato arpeggio triplets, reminiscent of Bellini; and the violin occasionally takes flight as in Vaughn Williams’ Lark Ascending.

Overwhelmingly, I was struck by the evocative power of this music, from the trickle of water into a deep pool, to the weeping, sighing, moaning expressed in only two descending notes. Both of these amazing artists had to remove bow hairs shredded in their vigorous attack; and many (including me) stood to acknowledge their virtuoso performance. I kept thinking what a GREAT soundtrack this would make for an animated short feature!

After a generous intermission, the quartet (minus Mr. Lee) was joined by pianist Zoltan Fejervari (a good Hungarian name!) and Leigh Mesh, associate principal bass for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra who has taught master classes at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music, for the main event: Schubert’s beloved “Trout” Quintet (1819).

Written during a sojourn in the Styrian Alps (southern Austria), it was commissioned by a local wealthy merchant and amateur cellist, with the stipulations that it be based on “Die Forelle” (The Trout), Schubert’s popular song written two years previously; and that it utilize available musicians, which meant dropping the second violin and adding double bass in a piano quintet. The extra artists blended in without exactly matching, wearing black tie with white dinner jackets.

KHFM listeners would have immediately recognized the forthright opening chord and following piano arpeggio from the station’s familiar promo; and indeed, the entire work is frequented by well-known, iconic passages. I particularly enjoyed the image of bass, seated behind and above, and cello taking their turn together on the classic melody, both gentlemen with bald heads and dancing bows moving as one. I also noticed that Papa Bass, the only player of an older generation, alone used paper music among the strings, along with the pianist, who still required a page turner (an old job of mine).

While the program proclaims it a rare piece of “completely happy music”, this could only be asserted by someone ignorant of Christian Schubart’s (no relation) poem, which mourns the deception and death of the trout. Nonetheless, the performance was nothing short of marvelous, with the audience standing and bringing the performers back three times to express their appreciation.

Next summer the Dover and Escher Quartets return to join forces in octets by Mendelssohn and Enescu, and the Festival debut of larger works by Wagner (Tristan und Isolde at the Opera!), Schoenberg, and others. Continuing will be the Music at Noon series, featuring (mostly) piano on Tuesdays, voice on Wednesdays, and string ensembles on Thursdays. These noon concerts are the most affordable, with tickets starting at $33.

For me, chamber music is the most pure musical performance experience: no words, no costumes, no sets, every player a soloist on their part; and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival has been bringing world-class artists to us for nearly half a century. Promise yourself at least one if not more of their wonderful offerings next summer; in decades of participation and attendance, I have never failed to be enthralled, whatever the instruments or ensembles.