America the Beautiful

Immigrant Nation,” presented by Santa Barbara Chamber Music

At First Congregationalist Church, Friday, June 16 and Sunday, June 18.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

The opening concert of the three-day chamber music festival had no shortage of music, although there were fewer instruments playing this year. As violinist Kathleen Lenski and pianist Edith Orloff struck up Aaron Copland’s “Waltz & Celebration,” from his ballet Billy the Kid, it was lovely to note how those two instruments filled the church with music. The two went on to play the “Hoe Down,” from Copland’s Rodeo, and put an ineradicable, Ken Burns-y Americana spin on the evening and festival that followed.

All modern chamber music involving winds tends to make me think of Les Six (especially François Poulenc) and Robert Muczynski’s Sonata for Flute and Piano, exquisitely performed by Ann Erwin (flute) and Orloff (piano), was no exception. It was a lively, nimble, and exciting piece. After a decent interval to allow us to catch our breath, Erwin, clarinetist David Peck, and Orloff played Gabriella Frank’s Canto de Harawi for flute, clarinet, and piano, a moody and exotic piece that combines Peruvian folk music and Frank’s vague and highly idiosyncratic memories of hearing Mozart in her childhood. One couldn’t always sort out the various elements, but it was very effective.

Richard Pearson Thomas’s Meditation for violin and piano was shifted to Saturday night, so the evening concluded with Ingolf Dahl’s politely challenging Sonata da Camera for clarinet and piano, wonderfully realized by the husband-and-wife team of David Peck and Orloff. Dahl’s argument, if he made one, was a little difficult to follow, but the music kept me interested.

The concluding concert on Sunday opened with Joan Tower’s Petroushskates for violin, cello, flute, clarinet, and piano. The only composition in this year’s festival in which all five musicians played, Petroushskates is a kind of hasty, frontline report on Petroushka, a turbulent little pond in which Stravinsky is just one of the fish swimming around and flashing up to the surface, leaping and churning. However long they rehearsed, these five make a tight, brilliant ensemble.

There followed a sublime episode — cellist John Walz and Orloff playing Samuel Barber’s Sonata for violoncello and piano. The main theme of the first movement is so nobly expansive, so unabashedly heart-on-sleeve that it scarcely seems connected at all to the pinched and crabbed 20th century. Walz and Orloff were equal to it, too. Arthur Foote’s Three Pieces for flute and piano are sweet and charming miniatures and they were beautifully performed by Erwin and Orloff. Foote had a rare gift for easy flowing melody, and these little gems were virtually all tune. Those in the know were quite excited to hear the final work of the festival, Dahl’s Concerto a Tre for clarinet, violin, and cello played by Peck, Lenski, and Walz. Truly, it is a remarkable piece, compelling and rhythmical, partaking somewhat of Stravinsky, somewhat of Hindemith, and a good deal more of what I took to be Dahl. This is one I need to know a lot better.

Congratulations and thanks to Dan Kepl for staging another miracle.

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