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Technique and Style a Winning Combination at Camerata Pacifica

Peters’ Music News
By Bill Peters
March 8, 2012

Camerata Pacifica’s ensemble added British oboist Nicholas Daniel and Korean percussionist Ji Hye Jung and pianist Adam Neiman for a program that contained equal parts of stunning technique with broad-brush style in their Tuesday night concert (March 6) at The Huntington Library in San Marino.

The program, heavy on contemporary compositions, offered three works by Richard Rodney Bennett, one by Iannis Xenakis, one by Toru Takemitsu and an after intermission beauty, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G-minor. The opener, a solo flute showpiece by Claude Debussy, was performed by Camerata Pacifica’s Artistic Director, Adrian Spence.

Spence’s reading of Debussy’s “Syrinx”, written in 1913, set the tone of the concert at a high performance standard in a style effective in its melancholy. But Bennett, the British composer of many styles, including film scores and jazz led the program into a modern mode of three pieces that date to the 1980s. Here, his “After Syrinx I”, “After Syrinx II” and “Tango After Syrinx” was interspersed between Xenakis and Takemitsu in the top half of the program.

That line-up brought guest oboist Daniel, percussionist Jung, and pianist Neiman to a collaboration, together and apart, for readings that had both substance and meaning to music that is, otherwise, seen as jumbled. In Bennett’s “After Syrinx I”, Daniel and Neiman met in a blended performance that swerved from the musical watery style Debussy is famous for, to puckish, a tribute to Debussy’s “Syrinx” after which these pieces are derived.

Jung’s flexible mallet work on the marimba in a solo effort, “After Syrinx II”, showed Bennett’s chord bending producing sounds that are revealing—she seemed an alchemist. Neiman in “Tango After Syrinx” handled the keyboard with solid strength and clear attacks. To his credit, he approached the whole with power. I thought I heard references to Gershwin’s Concerto in F. In any event, the music soared in his capable hands with the final extended note, holding one note until it disappeared, a technical triumph.

Daniel was awarded The Queen’s Medal for Music in 2011 to recognize his career accomplishments as oboist, composer and conductor in Britain. Pardon the pun, but Daniel’s oboe gymnastics in Xenakis’ “Dmaathen” was breathless. Along with mutual support of Jung and her percussion, Daniel led the opening Circus Midway call, the sensual drums and the Middle Eastern wail of the oboe was extraordinary. But his sound of drawing two notes together until they flutter, called “beats”, his use of circular breathing technique, biting the reed, all in all, produced quite a sound—just what Xenakis must have had in mind for his 1976 composition. Here was technique and style in a winning combination.

Spence and Jung continued the blending in Takemitsu’s “Towards the Sea”, where the composer asserts quiescence at one moment, and turmoil in another. Spence’s alto flute maintained the fluidity and was backed by Jung’s four-mallet gorgeous tones on the marimba.

Following intermission, Camerata Pacifica’s Catherine Leonard, Ara Gregorian, violins; Richard Yongjae O’Neill, viola; Ani Aznavoorian, cello; and Adam Neiman, piano gave an elegant, but forceful, reading of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G-minor. The Quintet is a 1940 composition that falls between Shostakovich’s symphonies, political difficulties in Russia, and Hollywood score writing. As such it contains a multitude of references to his next composition, the Symphony No. 5, some jazz (nimbly played by Neiman) and even a hint of the piece he wrote for the movie, “Thousands Cheer” as a tribute to the United Nations.

What could cap an evening better than this? The intimacy of Fellows Hall at The Huntington was the perfect setting.

Camerata Pacifica returns to The Huntington Library Tuesday, April 10 with a program of the music of Bright Sheng, Eric Ewazen and Ernst von Dohnanyi.