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19th Century Lunching Option

Santa Barbara News-Press
By Josef Woodard
November 12, 2012

Thankfully for serious music fans in town, the chamber music bounty that is Camerata Pacifica is off and running in its season by now, having heeded its habit of starting the concert season a month earlier than most classical music organizations in town. Also thankfully, the group sticks to its mandate of historical adventurism and inclusiveness, given September’s kick-off program, mixing Beethoven with three more modern works, and replete with a world premiere by composer Huang Ruo.

October’s Camerata fare was also history-hopping, mixing 19th century romanticism with 20th century ventures of George Crumb and Anton Webern. In its abridged lunchtime program at Hahn Hall on Friday, though, the 19th century ruled, giving a focused intensity to the listening experience of hearing two half-hour late-career works, by Brahms and Chopin.

Intensity and intimacy also reflected on the instrumental menu on the lunch concert program. While the ranks and personnel of Camerata varies concert by concert, piece by piece, Friday’s affair consisted strictly of two mainstays in the group, pianist Warren Jones and cellist Ani Aznavoorian, both wonderful musicians worth hearing in any setting.

Mr. Jones, nicely illustrating his clean expressive powers in a rare solo setting, opened up with Brahms’ solo piano piece “Sechs Klavierstucke, Opus 118,” a set of six pieces out of twenty he wrote, after his supposed “retirement.” What opens with a big, Brahms-ian statement, in overstates octave melodies, a case of romanticism in full or overripe splendor, quickly tilts towards a tender lyricism in the second piece.

A gusty flow in the forth piece is followed by the serene, mostly major-mode poise of the Romance. The finale’s opening theme is a simple melodic idea that develops and interweaves with a sinuous bass part and a rising and falling dynamic tide. Mr. Jones brought the fine points and narrative routes of the score to Hahn hall with a persuasive boldness.

With Chopin’s Sonata for Piano and Cello in G Minor, Opus 65, one of not many works written by the composer for musical forces beyond just solo piano, and added patina of gravitas comes through beyond the score itself. The composer was in the final stage of his short life (1810 – 1849) and struggled with writing the piece to his satisfaction. As fate would have it, this was Chopin’s last completed work, and he performed it at his final concert.

Given such dramatic reputation preceding it, the music arrives pre-equipped with dramatic ammo, but also harnesses sure strengths on its actual musical merits. From the earliest moments of interaction of pianist and cellist, Mr. Jones and Ms. Aznavoorian establisted command of the task.

With its failry equitable balance of protagonist duties, the players are brought into close conversational contact, dialoguing with the lead and supportive roles. The cellist delved assuredly into the part, from the singing pleading lines to the powerful assertions, all made with attentive care.

As with the Brahms piece, to these admittedly Romanticism-wary ears, the best came with the softest moment in this score: the Largo is a beguilingly compact section, yet a sort of anchoring place of peaceable relief amidst the sturm und drang, scamper, trudge and soar. This movement’s haunting, lucid loveliness left a memorable impact on at least one listener in Hahn Hall, on an early autumnal Friday afternoon.