Modern Modalities

Camerata Pacifica. At Lotte Lehmann Hall, Music Academy of the West, Friday, November 17.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

There’s something particularly civilized about attending a chamber music concert mid afternoon, a privilege Camerata Pacifica provides in its ongoing lunchtime series — usually abbreviated, informal versions of the same evening’s performance. Last Friday’s lunchtime concert actually contained the full program, catering, perhaps, to those planning to attend the Juilliard String Quartet that night.

The concert opened with Paul Hindemith’s 1936 Sonata for Flute and Piano, begun as an airy, tonal exploration in which Jean Schneider’s rippling arpeggios burbled pleasantly beneath Adrian Spence’s breezy flute. The work’s closing march contains an urgent, breathless chase, but for Hindemith, this was relatively gentle. Schneider and Spence stayed on to play the Enesco, an intense and tangled work where the piano ranges from dirge-like depths to dainty delicacy, and the flute from wistful strains to punchy staccato. The shrill crescendos and diminuendos of the “Presto” deny the listener resolution, existing in the exciting and vaguely discomfiting realm of the minor all the way to the rousing conclusion, when a shift to the major comes as a major relief.

Alfred Schnittke’s Violin Sonata No. 1 followed hot on Hindemith’s heels: With the stunningly relentless Jennifer Frautschi on violin, this was a heart-pounding, sophisticated work. After a violent, crashing “Andante” and “Allegretto,” the “Largo” is a haunting contrast — Frautschi’s delicate playing brought to mind a storm survivor emerging tentatively to tiptoe through once-familiar surroundings, testing for stability. The “Largo” ends with a passage in the harmonic register, the piano pianissimo, the violin singing at the upper limits of audibility. In the final attack of the “Allegretto Scherzando,” Frautschi broke more than one bowstring.

Ernst von Dohnányi, the composer known as the “Hungarian Brahms,” composed his Piano Quintet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 1 in 1895 at the age of 17. From the delicate pizzicato of the quintet’s opening “Allegro” to the rousing, triumphant “Finale,” the work reflects its creator’s age in its rapturous drama and excitability as well as in its tenderness and romantic innocence. The melody of the “Adagio” is one of heartbreaking beauty, especially when played with such integration — these musicians created an astonishingly unified sound and left the air shimmering in their wake.

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