The newly opened University of the Incarnate Word Concert Hall – some details from the old Auditorium are recognizable on the side walls.
September 17, 2015
Superstitious minds might observe with alarm that Camerata San Antonio opened its 13th season on Sept. 13. Notto worry: The signs were mostly favorable. The concert was Camerata’s first in a new – well, sort of new – hall that should work out nicely, and the top-flight string quartet at the ensemble’s core played with superb fit and finish in a program of Haydn, Beethoven and Sulkhan Tsintsadze.
The venue was the University of the Incarnate Word Concert Hall. Many years ago the San Antonio Chamber Music Society presented its concerts in the same space, when it was called an auditorium. Though some features of the room remain recognizable, it has undergone a major renovation. The old proscenium stage has been replaced with a concert shell that projects more sound energy to the audience. The former balcony has been closed off. Seating is new. The Corinthian-capitaled pilasters remain, along with a few other original details, but most of the side and rear wall areas have been covered with fabric, which hides an electronic resonance system — not yet deployed for this concert. Without the electronics, the native sound is clinically dry but immediate. Ken Freudigman’s cello sounded uncharacteristically tubby at the low end, but otherwise all four instruments projected cleanly.
The unfamiliar name on the program was Tsintsadze (1925-1991). He was represented by eight of his Miniatures for string quartet – he composed 32 such pieces, published in three sets in 1945, 1961 and 1978. All have roots in the folk idioms of his native Georgia. The selections presented here included several lively dances, pleasant if slight, but some of the works were more intriguing. “Firefly” swayed gently with a hint of Borodin in the air. “Sachidao” opened with the cello alone playing double-stop drones with slides. “Sisatura,” was notable for its shifting affect — starting out like a lullaby, but becoming mournful.
Haydn’s “Fifths” Quartet (Op. 76, No. 2) and the third of Beethoven’s middle-period “Razumovsky” Quartets were familiar territory, but the view was made fresh by first violin Matthew Zerweck’s consistently trenchant phrasing — musical, of course, but also rhetorical, as though he were an actor speaking great texts, naturally and without evident cunning. Never before have I heard the first-violin part in a Haydn quartet played with such throughgoing specificity of meaning. Mr, Zerweck grows more impressive with every hearing. He’s a genuine treasure.
Anastasia Storer (violin), Emily Freudigman (viola) and Ken Freudigman were worthy colleagues. The ensemble playing was taut and robust, the timbres nicely matched, the pacing lively. Perhaps the menuetto of the Beethoven could have been a bit quicker, but the finale surged with momentum.