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CONCERT REVIEW: Flute and oboe, equal time night out : Camerata Pacifica program features director/flutist Adrian Spence

 

Josef Woodard, News Press Correspondent

April, 16 2014

If the latest concert in the current Camerata Pacifica season could be boiled down to some cohesive thematic design, it could be called a three-pronged thematic affair. For one, the evening put a focus on the founder, giving some due spotlight time to the chamber music group’s brave, charismatic and indefatigable director, Irish émigré flutist Adrian Spence.

Then there, in keeping with Camerata’s committed interest in being a far western outpost for obscure classical music from the UK, there was a UK component of music — both player (regular visitor and master oboist Nicholas Daniel) and played (modestly interesting music by Herbert Howells and his student, Madeleine Dring). And then, alas, there was Mozart, supplying the longest and strongest musical work of the night, a genial grand finale of Quintet in E-flat for Piano and Winds.

To commence the evening’s pleasant enough proceedings, Mr. Spence was joined by pianist Warren Jones for the friendly and soothing, fully non-toxic and neo-romantic “Soliloquy,” by American composer Jake Heggie. Mr. Heggie, incidentally, was commissioned by this very ensemble (and enlightened patrons Richard and Luci Janssen) to write “Winter Roses” for mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, a wonderful song cycle to be reprised, 10 years after its premiere in town, on next month’s program.

Next up, the flutist went (mostly) solo, and leaned into the modal, meditative contours of the wonderful Scottish-born and long Santa Barbara-based composer Thea Musgrave’s ’70s-era “Narcissus for Flute and Digital Delay.” The composer craftily melds the mythic source, the story of the self-absorbed character so entranced by his reflection in water that he drowns, and the musing musical designs.

As intriguing as the piece is, it does suffer from that perverse premature obsolescence factor where electronic technology is concerned. The phantom echo aspect of the music, triggered by the footwork and wiring controlled by the flutist, recalled ’70s artists, including Flora Purim and Paul Winter, who drew on the time-bending gizmos of Echoplexes and other delay-looping gadgetry. Forty years later, in a serious musical setting, the effect sounds like a quaint artifact, whereas a flute from the 1770s sounds new and now. Go figure.

If flute is an instrument deserving more equal stage time, oboe is higher up on the list of tools granted minimal access to the soloist hot seat. Mr. Daniel, a powerful poet on the instrument who was featured in last month’s Camerata concert on a lesser-known piece by Britten, here made a bold and subtle sound. Even so, however, Howell’s Sonata for Oboe and Piano and Dring’s Trio for Flute, Oboe and Piano failed to register as much more than middling mid-century fare, not necessarily worth rescuing from obscurity.

On this night, the best — repertoire-wise, at least — came last. Mozart’s quintet was brought vividly to life, with crisp and listen-up playing by a group including Mr. Daniel and Mr. Jones, joined by clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester, bassoonist John Steinmetz and hornist Martin Owen. Old Amadeus managed to, as they say, steal the show.