Santa Barbara Independent
By Charles Donelan
January 9, 2009
Camerata Pacifica greeted 2009 on Friday with an excellent, wide-ranging program performed by pianist Anna Polonsky and violinist Nurit Pacht. Artistic director Adrian Spence mostly refrained from his customary role as master of ceremonies, limiting himself to one heartfelt speech in the second half of the show imploring the audience to support the Camerata during difficult economic times. Otherwise, both Spence and his musical guests let the music do the talking. And speak it did. From the opening Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80 of Sergei Prokofiev—a haunting and radically innovative composition dated 1946—to the closing Sonata for Violin and Piano in D Minor, Op. 9 of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, this concert gave voice to some extraordinary musical personalities.
The Prokofiev was unquestionably the evening’s most demanding work, and Nurit Pacht negotiated its many wild and wooly passages, including lots of pizzicato, with great confidence and tact. Anna Polonsky was a more than equal partner in the proceeding, anchoring the very open and unpredictable score with her intense listening and careful, refined chords. This duo has a great rapport, and it was a pleasure to observe the high level of communication they maintained throughout.
Next came a solo piano piece for Polonsky, Claude Debussy’s gorgeous Images (oubliées). This version of the Images for piano has earned the parenthetical addition to its title because it includes passages that were only discovered and restored in 1977. Polonsky played the work with consummate grace and expressiveness.
Following the intermission, Polonsky returned to the stage alone to play one of Beethoven’s greatest piano works, the Piano Sonata in F-sharp Major, Op. 78. Drawn from the beginning of Beethoven’s great “late” period, the work combines the most appealing features of the composer’s second and final phases, wedding a short and slow introduction to two more brief and powerful thematic statements. Polonsky really took off on this one, effectively reproducing the heightened atmosphere and dramatic presence of the major sonatas in a work of significantly shorter length.
Karol Szymanowski is enjoying something of a revival, having had his opera, King Roger, produced for the first time in decades recently, and appearing with greater and greater frequency on chamber music and even orchestral programs. It’s easy to see why, given the harmonic sophistication and brio of the Sonata for Violin and Piano in D Minor. Pacht was once again called upon to navigate between complex bowing and rapid-fire pizzicato, especially in the second movement. The finale was extremely memorable, evoking Szymanowski’s daring sensuality and Mediterranean verve..