The Low End Theory

Camerata Pacifica’s May Concert

At Victoria Hall Theater, Friday, May 19.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

The basset horn is a straight bass clarinet that was popular in the 18th century, particularly as played by Mozart’s friend and musical associate, Anton Stadler. On Friday, Bil Jackson produced one of these remarkable instruments to give us an original-instrument version of Mozart’s famous Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581, known as the “Stadler,” after the performer for whom it was written. Following a brief introduction in which he demonstrated the horn’s remarkable low end — four semi-tones lower than an ordinary clarinet — Jackson proceeded to take the reins and effectively conduct the quintet from the basset horn. His fellow musicians included guests Nurit Pacht and Jennifer Frautschi on violins, Felix Fan on cello, and Donald McInnes on viola. The piece overflows with Mozart’s characteristic delicacies: four movements, each with its own flavor — the first slightly melancholy; the second bursting with elaborate clarinet lines set against muted strings; and the third and fourth bristling with trios and lyrical melodies reminiscent of Mozart’s operatic style. The violinists made it especially rewarding, giving full vent to the airy, theatrical qualities of the music.

In the second half of the program, a string trio comprised of Frautschi, McInnes, and Fan was joined by pianist Warren Jones for Brahms’s Piano Quartet in A Major, Opus 26. Jones introduced the piece by likening it to the experience of climbing a large mountain, and the comparison proved dead on. The steady, step-by-step increase in altitude was accompanied by an extraordinary sense of constantly shifting panoramas. At times the earliest vistas became invisible, only to arise again at the most unexpected moments. The playing on this piece, particularly that of guest artist Jennifer Frautschi, was exquisite, perfectly in touch with the romantic spirit of both Beethoven and Schubert, Brahms’s most intimate influences. The “Poco Adagio” of this quartet is both rhythmically innovative and blessed with a beautiful melody.

Overall the evening made a most fitting end to another stellar season of chamber music as presented by Camerata Pacifica. There are few pleasures comparable to hearing the work of Brahms and Mozart interpreted with this much passion and intelligence, and the capacity audience seemed well satisfied with the evening. Let’s hope that with next year’s concerts scheduled for a much smaller venue — Lehmann Hall at the Music Academy of the West — the music and concept of Camerata Pacifica continues to find and expand the curious, critical, and lucky audience it deserves.

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