By Daniel Ginsberg
Apr 26, 2008
Camerata Pacifica is a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based chamber music ensemble, though you would never know it from the surface trappings of its Thursday evening concert at the Library of Congress. The program and most prominent players lent the impression that the group might call Northern Ireland home. At the center was a bracing account of a violin concerto by Ian Wilson, the group’s resident composer and a Belfast native, and the bold concert was part of a tour with stops in London, Dublin and, yes, Northern Ireland.
These Irish ties come from the Camerata’s artistic director, Adrian Spence, himself a former Northern Ireland resident. Spence told the good-size audience that the astringency and density of Wilson’s concerto, “Messenger,” flows from the composer’s firsthand war experiences such as the 1999 airstrikes in Belgrade, Serbia. In the brooding account, sliding glissandi conjured dark visions of falling bombs, while compact textures evoked tense atmospheres. Through these dissonant sound blocks weaved the focused violin of Catherine Leonard, emerging like a lone voice amid remorseless terror. A lullaby in the second movement came off more gritty than soothing, and little light came into a more quiescent finale.
The group’s American roots peeked out in the performance of John Harbison’s Piano Quintet, which subtly integrates the percussive thrusts of Shostakovich and the meditative gentleness of Messiaen within a larger cast of American-style, angular modernism. The Camerata brought out the piece’s human side, at once searing and tender. Pianist Warren Jones’s rhapsodic account of Brahms’s E-flat Intermezzo from Op. 117 accentuated the ability of Harbison and Wilson to paint emotional calm amid storm and stress.