By Richard S. Ginell
May 14, 2009
Santa Barbara’s Camerata Pacifica – which also maintains outposts in Ventura, San Marino and downtown Los Angeles – announced the final program of its 19th season with a fairly provocative news release. “Camerata Pacifica is not your parent’s chamber ensemble,” the copy breathlessly proclaimed, adding: “Akin to the Dixie Chicks, Il Divo and other genre-bending artists, Camerata Pacifica presents a new look and approach to a traditional music form.”
Well, now. If you happened to be poking around the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall Thursday night, the Camerata’s presentation didn’t look much different from the usual formal, serious chamber music routine. No flash, no flamboyant costumes, no transcriptions of rock hits, nothing like that. The performers were mostly young and highly proficient – nothing unusual there – and the menu consisted of lightweight Beethoven and demanding Brahms along with a viola/piano sonata by a nearly forgotten British composer from the last century, Rebecca Clarke.
What was out of the ordinary was the wildly enthusiastic response that each work received. Whatever it’s doing, Camerata Pacifica seems to be cultivating a passionate audience – and that’s good news.
(There will be a bit more this Wednesday – a free concert at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, where the Camerata will be joined by members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.)
On Thursday, flutist Adrian Spence – also the Camerata’s irrepressible artistic director – with violinist Catherine Leonard and violist Richard Yongjae O’Neill first polished off Beethoven’s Serenade in D, Opus 25, with appropriately jaunty, frisky strokes.
Then O’Neill – who has made several Deutsche Grammophon CDs for the South Korean market – and pianist Warren Jones took on Clarke’s sonata, which is a most agreeable amalgam of Debussian harmonies, traces of modal 20th century English music, and even a touch of pentatonic Asia. Most of all, the piece fills a void for grateful violists on the lookout for scarce quality solo material.
The Brahms Piano Quartet in A, Opus 26 – the conclusion of the complete cycle of his piano quartets that Camerata Pacifica undertook this season – is the biggest and most tiring of the lot, a full heavy meal in itself at the end of a long program. Thankfully, Jones, Leonard, O’Neill and cellist Ani Aznavoorian made this unwieldy thing fly by in well under 50 minutes – a relatively propulsive pace – settling into a unified groove as the balances between the musicians gradually evened out, with plenty of give-and-take among them.