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Concert Review: Questions of Balancing

For the latest installment in Camerata Pacifica’s current season of chamber music enticements, the programming prerogative turned notably adventuresome. What transpired was a conceptually-designed and twentieth-century-leaning program which was nonetheless ear-friendly and wholly satisfying.

Friday’s tasty and brain-teasing program was mostly built around variations hovering about the theme of the mythical nymph “Syrinx.” A series of twentieth-century pieces spun off the original impulse of a short, just pre-turn of the century jewel, Claude Debussy’s brief, lovely and lyrical solo flute piece “Syrinx,” circa 1897.

During the slightly truncated “Lunchtime” program on Friday afternoon in Hahn Hall, preceding the usual evening concert, the theme was the same, but leaner, and the overall impact of the hour-long musical menu worked beautifully. After the Camerata’s intrepid and instrumentally gifted leader, flutist Adrian Spence gave a lucid and effectively poetic reading of the Debussy score, the after-ripples and afterglow continued.

Weaving three works together, without the reality-checking sound of applause between them, gave a seamless continuity to pieces by Debussy, the late Japanese composer legend Toru Takemitsu, and living British composer Richard Rodney Bennett. Said continuity was somehow achieved despite the divergent musical languages being put forth here.

With Takemitsu’s three-part “Towards the Sea,” Mr. Spence was joined by South Korean percussionist Ji Hye Jung, who has become an important peripheral member of the Camerata Pacifica family in the last couple of years. As she played the bass marimba, firmly and delicately by turns, and Mr. Spence alternated between standard flute and the lower, duskier alto flute, the unique beauty of Takemitsu’s blend of a strong Debussy influence, his own flavor of minimalism and soft-edged atonality wove a spell of arid enchantment.

Pianist Adam Neiman, who may boast the distinction of being the first pianist with a regular Santa Barbara presence who has gone digital for his scores — reading from an iPad instead of old school papyrus — led into a thornier, more dissonant thicket with Mr. Bennett’s “Tango After Syrinx.” While pushing further into a dissonant post-serial area, the piece nonetheless asserts its link to a Debussy-inspired sense of poise and delicacy, and even trace elements of the tango cadences in the rhythmic bones.

Moving beyond the “Syrinx” and Debussy ripple effect ideas, the program settled into its largest opus, Shostakovich’s fascinating, and alternately stern and friendly Piano Quintet in G Minor, Opus 57. Written in 1940, not a happy segment of Russian or world history, Shostakovich’s five-movement piece — robustly played here by Mr. Neiman at the piano, Catherine Leonard and Ara Gregorian on violin, cellist Ani Aznavoorian and violist Richard Yongjae O’Neill — nicely embodies the critical mix that is this composer’s world.

Muscularity and melancholy, wry and jagged humor, airs of both fleeting post-Romantic swoon sensation and tough Modernist gumption come through, in the right and proper degrees. A surprisingly tender little wisp of a finale catches us off-guard and sent us half-floating out of Hahn Hall.

All told, this compact yet expansive program may have been the best and brightest “lunchtime” concert yet in the series’ few year history. All the pieces were in place, programmatically, performances were in their usual high, attentive form, and musical senses were fully piqued and rewarded.

Photo by David Bazemore