SOLI Chamber Ensemble has moved its Monday-evening concerts to the intimate Jazz TX at The Pearl.
Nancy Zhou (violin) and Daniel Anastasio (piano) teamed up for a Musical Bridges Around the World concert at San Fernando Cathedral. Below: Mezzo-soprano Veronica Williams sang the African-American spiritual “Lord, How Come Me Here?"
Camerata San Antonio, SOLI, Musical Bridges
Almost too much music
October 5, 2017
Three worthy concerts in two days:
On Oct. 1, Camerata San Antonio
brought back pianist Viktor Valkov to
join its excellent string quartet. That
evening, Musical Bridges Around the
World brought back four young
musicians who were involved as
teen-agers with the organization or its
founder, pianist and teacher Anya
Grokhovski, and now are serious pros.
Then on Oct. 2, the SOLI Chamber Ensemble opened its Monday-night series in a new, unbuttoned venue, well suited to the troupe's unbuttoned contemporary repertoire.
Intriguing music and fine
performances abounded, but one
moment pushed to the fore. At the
midpoint of the Musical Bridges
concert, in the well-filled San
Fernando Cathedral, mezzo-soprano
Veronica Williams delivered the
African-American spiritual “Lord,
How Come Me Here?” with a thrilling
instrument, overwhelming authority
and the golden hammer of Truth.
Sharing the program were violinist
Nancy Zhou (flown in from
Shanghai) and pianist Daniel
Anastasio (New York), who opened
with a lustrous account of Karol
Szymanowski’s Mythes, a lush
expressionist work that showed off
Ms. Zhou’s gleaming, accurate high
register and Mr. Anastasio’s clean,
tireless technique. The pianist was on
his own in Franz Liszt’s light, fleet
Valse Impromptu, a performance that
was congenial and seemingly effortless
but that also evinced a serious intellect
at work. Ms. Zhou returned with two
of Niccolo Paganini’s solo Caprices,
No. 7 and the famous No. 24, playing
both with fearless technique and, on
the whole, interpretive coolness,
though she could turn up the flames
when they were needed.
The fourth returnee was composer
Yvonne Freckmann (now based in Amsterdam), who wrote a new work for the other three. Bridge, about 10 minutes long, is a setting of the composer’s own poem, a meditation on the building and crossing and occasional failure of bridges. We have heard from Ms. Freckmann before: Her Switch, for clarinet and live electronic sounds, was included on a SOLI concert in 2014. Bridge is more conservative, its stretched-tonal idiom sometimes hinting at Americana. The scoring for piano and violin is generally spare, but they have a giddy explosion of sound near the end. The text-setting is natural and flatters the voice, and Ms. Williams returned the compliment with a beautiful performance.
SOLI continues to use Trinity University’s Ruth Taylor Recital Hall for Tuesday-evening concerts, but Mondays this season have moved to Jazz TX, Brent “Doc” Watkins’ intimate jazz club tucked away in the basement of the Bottling Department food hall at The Pearl. The sound in the low-ceilinged space is dry but balanced and immediate.
Of the programs’s three major works, the most fetching was Sebastian Currier’s Verge (1997) for clarinet (Stephanie Key), violin (Ertan Torgul) and piano (Carolyn True). It comprises nine short movements, each of which (in the composer’s words) “stands on the edge of excess.” So do the contrasts between them. The first, “Almost too fast,” a crisp, witty, cartoonish chase, is followed by the mournfiul, mostly quiet “Almost too slow.” The seventh, “Almost too much,” is relatively epic in its fast-paced eventfulness, ending with pummeling violence. Its sequel, “Almost too little,” is a whispering wisp of spare, desultory scoring, finished before you can spell “W-E-B-E-R-N.” (The audience, evidently getting the joke, laughed heartily.) The finale, “Almost too calm,” is unutterably lovely and tender. The whole structure and the individual movements are superbly crafted.
Daniel Schnyder’s A Friday Night in August (2014) for clarinet, cello (David Mollenauer) and piano is rather like a journal of club-hopping, its several episodes tinged with deconstructed jazz, blues, Afro-Caribbean and piano lounge influences. The fast, screeching, jostling introduction might remind New Yorkers of the Seventh Avenue subway ride to the West Village. George Tsontakis’ Eclipse (1995) for clarinet, violin, cello and piano had its interesting moments – the third movement’s tremolos suggesting a cimbalom, for example – but on the whole the music was too crowded with ideas.
And it was nice to be reacquainted with an old friend, Robert X. Rodrîguez’s Lull-A-Bear (1993), an endearing lullaby for cello and piano.
Camerata San Antonio opened its season in the University of the Incarnate Word concert hall with a program of Brahms, pseudo-Brahms (Carl Frühling) and something completely different, Entr’acte (Minuet and Trio) (2011) for string quartet by the American composer Caroline Shaw, the youngest-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music, in 2013.
“Completely different” might not be quite the right descriptor, because Entr’acte extends roots into a wide and diverse swath of music history, going back at least as far as the 17th century and grabbing bits of DNA from Beethoven, Bartok, Philip Glass, etc. (Lots of etc.) The individuality of this music stems from Shaw’s free-wheeling juxtaposition of styles and from her weird harmonic shifts and firm sense of structure. All was communicated with conviction and polish by the Camerata string quartet – violins Matthew Zerweck and Anastasia Parker, viola Emily Freudigman and cello Ken Freudigman. This was only Shaw’s second appearance on local concert programs, to my knowledge – another of her pieces shared the same 2014 SOLI concert that included the Freckmann piece for clarinet and electronics – and more would be welcome.
Mr. Valkov, a powerhouse with a commanding technique, joined the string players in Brahms’ magisterial Piano Quintet in F minor and in Frühling’s not-so-magisterial Piano Quintet in F-sharp minor. The style of the latter owes much to Brahms but seems overstuffed and cluttered, while the melodic content is facile. The Brahms was given a deeply considered performance, although I sometimes had the impression that the players were searching for an interpretation that just eluded their grasp. The tempo play was sometimes too fussy in the finale, but the second movement compelled attention with its halting rhythm. The opening allegro was as muscular and vigorous as anyone could wish.