The former Czechoslovakia issued several stamps honoring Antonín Dvořák.
January 12, 2016
If the San Antonio Symphony is the sun around which Las Américas Festival revolves, some of the satellites radiate plenty of light and warmth of their own.
Camerata San Antonio’s core string quartet opened the festival Jan. 10 with superb performances of works by Charles Ives (USA), Heitor Villa-Lobos (Brazil), Osvaldo Golijov (Argentina and Israel) and Antonín Dvořák (a Czech represented by his Quartet in F, “American,” composed during his 1893 sojourn in Spillville, Iowa). The venue was the concert hall at the University of the Incarnate Word.
Since its founding in 2003 Camerata has recruited top-notch local musicians, and occasional visitors, to play chamber music of all sorts, with string quartets a fraction of the mix. Most quartet performances included Camerata’s co-founders, violist Emily Watkins Freudigman and cellist Kenneth Freudigman, but the two violin slots changed frequently in the early years.
The current roster dates from March of 2012, when violinist Anastasia Storer joined violinist Matthew Zerweck (with Camerata since 2009) and the Freudigmans. It was immediately apparent that this particular assortment was the strongest in Camerata’s history, and the intervening years have forged an increasingly cohesive, spirited and intelligent ensemble, now fully equal to the best string quartets on the international circuit.
With the arguable exception of Mr. Goilijov’s reverent, contemplative Tenebrae (2002), all the works on the program represent fusions of Old World and New World styles.
In Ives’s String Quartet No. 1 (1896-7) the fusion is more like a collision — German Romantic plush upholstery mixes it up with the hard wooden pews of American folk hymn tunes. The Camerata players nicely distinguished the two personalities. In Brahmsian mode the sound was warmed by a rich vibrato; rhythmic acuity, a hallmark of the Camerata quartet in its current configuration, lent the rustic elements of the score a rare pungency.
Impeccable intonation gave a luxurious finish to the chordal passages of the opening “Cantilena” of Villa-Lobos’s six-movement String Quartet No. 1 (1915). Ms. Freudigman gave gorgeous voice to the viola melody at the heart of the “Canto Lirico.” Mr. Zerweck’s sweet tone (with a satisfying hint of tartness) and optimally effective phrase shapes made compelling listening in the “Melancolia.” The alternating fast movements sizzled with energy and intensity.
Dvorak’s Quartet in F may be overexposed, but Camerata’s performance was the clearest, freshest and most deeply considered in my memory. Crisply rendered rhythms heightened both the urgency and the buoyancy of the slow movement, and Mr. Zerweck’s magnificent portamenti on strategic notes were by themselves worth the price of admission.
Camerata San Antonio
Top-shelf start to Las Américas Festival
Heitor Villa-Lobos is on the money in his native Brazil.
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