February 1, 2019
No collaborative relationship in the arts is quite comparable to that between a composer and a performer. The fruits of several such relationships proved fetching in two recent performances, by the Cavatina Duo (Jan 27) and pianist Viktor Valkov (Jan. 20). .
The Cavatina Duo, comprising flutist Eugenia Moliner and guitarist Denis Azabagic, gave a mostly modern concert that included three works written for that team. One, by local composer-guitarist Matt Dunne, was a memorial to his friend Tallon Sterling Perkes, the San Antonio Symphony principal flute who died in 2012 at age 51 – a huge loss for our community. That new work was commissioned by the San Antonio Chamber Music Society, sponsor of the Cavatina Duo’s appearance in Temple Beth-El.
Perkes was a remarkable individual. Although he was known mainly as a first-rate musician, he also was a painter, and near the end of his life he went back to school to study architecture. Each movement of Mr. Dunne’s Three Artisans takes inspiration from one of those art forms. "The Painter” has the most improvisatory feeling, both in the sinuous solo flute melody that opens the piece and in a guitar solo later on. "The Architect" is a fugue, the most architectural of musical forms; the movement stops abruptly, as though it had been left unfinished. The final movement, "The Flute Player," opens with ghostly harmonics – suggestive of grief? – on the guitar. Later, the flute breaks into a virtuoso cadenza whose rapid roller-coaster runs allude, maybe a shade too literally, to flute etudes.
Taken as a whole, Three Artisans has a lyrical bent, it favors sensuous harmonies reminiscent of Brazilian jazz, it demands virtuosity from b0th players, and it is directly appealing without being simple-minded.
Two other living composers were represented on the program. Isabel, by Joseph V. Williams II, is a tribute to a Jewish woman who was burned alive during the Spanish Inquisition; on the whole, the piece is more ruminative than mournful. Alan Thomas assembled a delightful, showy Fantasy on themes from La Traviata. Both were commissioned by the Cavatina Duo.
The concert opened in the baroque period with Marin Marais’ Les Folies d’Espagne, a set of brief variations on a theme. The flute was at the fore here, and Ms. Moliner made a terrific impression with pristine rapid runs and, in a slow variation, a flexibility of phrasing that seemed informed by the vocal style of baroque opera. Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango allowed both players to shine equally, and to evince hand-in glove teamwork. The writing for flute was perhaps more brilliant, especially in the opening “Bordello,” in which Ms. Moliner was a veritable spitfire. No less welcome were Mr. Azabagic’s rich tone, fluid line and soulful phrasing in the languid “Cafe 1930.”
The previous Sunday, pianist Viktor Valkov, a frequent visiting collaborator with Camerata San Antonio, returned to give a solo recital on Camarata’s series at the University of the Incarnate Word. His demanding program included a fascinating piece composed for him last year by Luke Dahn, a colleague on the music faculty at the University of Utah and a fellow chess player.
The piece is called Giuoco Piano (Italian for “the quiet game”), a chess opening that demands patient, meticulous play by both black and white. Each of its five short movements is a musical picture of a historic chess game that began with that opening. Mr. Dahn’s idiom follows in the spiky modernist tradition of Bartok and Schoenberg. The movements are exceedingly brief, but each is beautifully formed and colored, and all engage the ear. They vary widely in character. “Kasparov’s Immortal” weaves together spare, prickly music in the high register and dark, thick, sustained chords down below. “23rd Century Chess” also brings together two ideas – violent, widely spaced stabbing chords and fluid, nervous material. “Topalov v. Aronian, 2006” is spare, quiet and meticulous. “Castellvi v. Vinyoles, 1475” is contrapuntal and lyrical, in its crisp way. “The Polish Immortal” is dark and violent, but the last few seconds play out in delicate tracery. The piece is something of a throwback to the more challenging currents in 20th-century modernism, but Mr. Dahn’s style is very much his own and fully developed, and the music is challenging but not off-putting. I’d like to hear more from this composer.
Mr. Valkov opened with a set of Debussy preludes, including the gorgeous “La Cathédrale engloutie,” all sounding more objective than gauzily “impressionistic” – but the same could be said of Debussy’s own piano roll recordings.
Mr. Valkov’s limitless technique encompasses everything from crisply defined delicacy to bold – even pugilistic – muscularity. Both made their points in Bartok’s Out of Doors suite, whose closing “The Chase” was hugely exciting, and Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8. The pianist gave a nod to his homeland with five Miniatures by fellow Bulgarian Dimitar Nenov. The lyrical romantic style barely hints of the year of the set's composition, 1945. Mike Greenberg
The Cavatina Duo: Denis Azabagic (guitar) and Eugenia Moliner (flute). Below: Pianist Viktor Valkov.