May 14, 2019
The Camerata San Antonio closed its 15th season with a superb concert of French and French-influenced music, May 12 in the University of the Incarnate Word concert hall.
The concert opened with Joaquin Turina’s Serenata for string quartet. Maurice Ravel’s Quartet in F was the centerpiece. For the closer, pianist Viktor Valkov joined Camerata’s strings in Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in C minor.
Camerata had previously essayed the Ravel quartet in September 2012, only the second concert by the strings consist that remains in place today – violinists Anastasia Parker and Matthew Zerweck, violist Emily Freudigman, and cellist Ken Freudigman. That performance was issued on a CD, so it was possible to compare accounts by the same players seven years apart. At the level of craft, the two were much the same: I had described the 2012 traversal as “taut, alert, and fully engaged,” and the same words apply to the 2019 performance. There were differences. Years of teamwork had brought a shade more fluency to the rhythms, perhaps a clearer sense of direction, and a greater willingness to take risks – as in the start of the final movement, considerably more biting and ferocious in this performance. I had the sense that, the second time around, the players expressed more directly the music behind the notes.
Fauré was in his mid-70s during the years 1919-21, when he composed his second piano quintet, but this is remarkably youthful music – most obviously in the fleet, whirling second movement, but also in the sense of uncontainable feeling that pervades this gusher of a piece. It’s a tour de force in the craft of composition, combining the slippery, sometimes indeterminate tonality of modernism with intricate Bachian counterpoint.
Some passages in the first movement elicited a more aggressive sound from Mr. Valkov than the score justified, but he compensated with wonderfully crisp leggero runs in the second movement. On the whole this was a polished, well-balanced, and committed performance. And it was lively, the ensemble’s flexible tempos and dynamics keeping the line in constant motion.
Turina was Spanish, of course, but he spent nearly a decade in Paris (1905-14), where he studied under Vincent D’Indy and came under the influence of Ravel and Debussy. Then, at the urging of his countrymen Isaac Albéniz and Manuel de Falla, Turina eschewed French influence and took up the mantle of Spanish nationalism. His Serenata, dating from 1935, is something of a throwback to his Paris years. It owes much to Ravel, and not a little to the tougher modernism of Bartok and perhaps Schoenberg, and limits Spanish influence to a few tropes. The luxurious, stylish performance argued persuasively that Turina should be a more frequent presence on concert programs.
Camerata had an opening act in the form of the Brandeis (High School) String Quartet, one of four ensembles that had participated in Camerata’s master class. The young group’s vehicle was the lyrical first movement (allegro moderato) of Alexander Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2.
The performance was excellent, with a beautiful blend, on-the-nose intonation, and impressive ensemble precision. A hearty Bravi to violinists Nicholas Garcia-Hettlinger and Hunter Messick, violist Cy Bell, and cellist Simon Phoa.
Playing Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quintet No. 2: Matthew Zerweck and Anastasia Parker (violins), Emily Freudigman (viola), Ken Freudigman (cello), and Viktor Valkov (piano).
The Brandeis String Quartet: Cy Bell (viola), Hunter
Messick (violin), Simon Phoa (cello), and Nicholas
Ravel's Ravellier the second time around
Camerata San Antonio