April 28, 2015
The magic of performance stems from the little-known fact that musicians are human. They don’t just bring their training and skills with them when they walk onto the stage. They also bring their whole lives, the experiences and memories and emotions that make them individuals.
A superb performance of Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat, capstone of an Olmos Ensemble concert April 27 in First Unitarian Universalist Church, drove home that point in the clearest possible way.
The third movement (andante cantabile) opens with a broad melody whose beginning could be sung as — for example — “I remember that night when we kissed on the shore.” The cello states the theme, then the violin repeats it two octaves higher. After a section in contrasting character the viola takes up the same theme before handing it back to the cello.
What about that night, that kiss on the shore? The three string players remembered it differently. Cellist Lachezar Kostov brought to this music an overflowing ardor tinged with sadness. For violinist Eric Thomas Gratz, the same line was all sweetness and light; for violist Kayleigh Miller, a pleasurably quivering vulnerability. This was chamber music of the highest order — individuals sharing their life experiences in conversation, honest and deeply human. No small talk.
The entirety of the Schumann was a performance to cherish, thanks in large part to the contributions of pianist Warren Jones. He was the very soul of rhythm, his shaping of dynamics and rubato giving every phrase the pulse and breath of life. It is no wonder that so many of the world’s greatest singers have prized him as a collaborator for so many years.
Mr. Jones and Mr. Kostov together were the adrenaline pumps of this performance, giving the opening allegro and the closing vivace a tremendous, extrovert muscularity. Their partners provided cooler colors, more-delicate srokes. The sum was altogether engrossing and bracing, a great perfromance by any standard.
The concert opened with Johannes Brahms’s Sonata No. 2 in A for piano and violin — Mr. Jones expansive and free, Mr. Gratz too matter-of-fact. The violinist, still very young and just a year into his tenure as concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony, is immensely able, but he didn’t seem to feel this music.
The centerpiece was Benjamin Britten’s early Phantasy Quartet, a dialog for pastoral oboe (Mark Ackerman, projecting a beautiful, characterful tone) and martial string trio.
The previous day in the Tobin Center’s Alvarez Studio Theater, Camerata San Antonio’s splendid string quartet, abetted by the Denver-based bandoneónist Evan Orman, offered a delightful program of music by the Argentine tango master Astor Piazzolla and some of the composers who influenced him.
Originally a cellist, Mr. Orman caught the tango bug and went to Buenos Aires to study the bandoneón, a type of concertina that is to the tango orchestra what smoke is to Texas barbecue. He learned well. He opened the concert’s all-Piazzolla second half with a solo piece, “La Casita de mis Viejos,” and then joined the string quartet in “Adios Nonino,” “Five Tango Sensations” and, for an encore, “Libertango.” Throughout, he displayed a seemingly innate understanding of the extreme flexibility, slashing rhythms and slinky eroticism that make tango central to Argentine culture.
The major work on the first half was Alberto Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1 in a performance notable for terrific drive and punchy rhythms. The quartet opened with two fugues from J.S. Bach’s “The Art of Fugue.” A welcome rarity was Igor Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet, nearly as spare and distilled as Anton Webern’s music of the same period.
The Camerata quartet played nearly everything with great verve — a too-strict traversal of the Bach was the exception — and luxurious finish. Once again violinist Matthew Zerweck showed remarkable intensity and, in his opening solo in the Ginastera third movement, poised eloquence. His estimable partners were Anastasia Storer (violin), Emily Freudigman (viola) and Ken Freudigman (cello).Mike Greenberg
Eric Thomas Gratz, Warren Jones, Lachezar Kostov and Kayleigh Miller, after the Schumann Piano Quartet