Concert Review: The Winds Have It

Santa Barbara News-Press
By Josef Woodard
March 17, 2013

For this month’s encounter in the Camerata Pacifica season, at Hahn Hall, the woodwinds mostly held sway, in a welcome “equal time” stage presence moment for the chamber group’s fine wind division. Like many a chamber group, the Camerata tends to lean toward the richer repertoire, and stronger audience appetite for strings over the course of a season. But this is also a group known for its periodic daring and sense of balance, giving a spotlight to the lesser-showcased areas of the instrumental family, including percussion and winds.

With this program, ironically, the two larger framing pieces opening and closing the concert, by Czech composers Pavel Haas and Dvorak, respectively, were solid enough but blander and less intriguing that what they framed. Works by Malcolm Arnold and especially Francis Poulenc grabbed the ear and satisfied the mind in ways the outer works didn’t.

Opening the concert, Haas’ Suite for Oboe for Piano, Opus 17, was masterfully played by oboist Nicholas Daniel and pianist Adam Neiman. But the score’s overheated post-romantic language does drone on, making the most compelling aspect the composer’s back story, as a Jewish composer who perished at Auschwitz.

After intermission, we heard the Dvorak piece with the long but truthful title Quintet for Piano and Strings No. 2 in A, Opus 81, for Piano and Wind Quintet, originally a work for strings (of the bowed and pianistic type), but imaginatively arranged for winds by David Jolley. (Mr. Jolley has over time been heard in Hahn Hall many times, in his summertime role on the faculty of the Music Academy of the West.)

Later this season, the original string version will be heard, for timely comparison and contrast. Witty bassoonist John Steinmetz offered verbal program notes (a bad habit exercised in excess at this concert), and quipped, “In May, the strings will be presenting the Clark Kent version of this piece.” This “Superman” arrangement of the Quintet was a polished romantic vehicle, pleasant on the ear, if you like that sort of thing.

More enticing to these ears, Arnold’s 1952 piece “Divertimento,” for flute, oboe and clarinet (Adrian Spence, Nicholas Daniel and Jose Franch-Ballester, respectively), is an urbanely charming thing, light in spirit and texture, spread out genially over six brief movements.

Members of Camerata Pacifica perform Dvorak, capping off its March concert, at Hahn Hall.

Best of show kudos, to these ears, go to Poulenc’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, written late in the composer’s life, in 1962, in memory of his colleague Arthur Honegger from the 1920s “Les Six” group of composers, which also included Darius Milhaud. As beautifully realized by Mr. Franch-Ballester and Mr. Neiman, the three-movement work resounded full of character, deft expressivity and with the ambivalent emotionality of a composer reflecting back while seizing the musical day. Touché.