When we hear the word “classic” we may think of looking back in time, but really we should think of gazing neither backward nor forward but rather of looking within. The musician’s challenge is to affirm what is true today, with all the freshness and spontaneity of a bird song, or a declaration of love, or the flashing recognition of truth. When artists are insightful, prepared, and in sync, you find yourself at the origin, feeling like you are witnessing the first performance, issued from an eternal now.
Friday night there was plenty of evidence for this sort of originality and focus. And whatever the reason — whether it was because of the inviting spring evening, the billing of name-brand composers, the presence of a distinguished visiting cellist, or simply a sense that the concert season is nearly concluding — there was a packed audience to witness the sparkle. The program of three works was nicely ordered along parallel lines of logic: chronology, instrumentation, duration, and complexity.
Duo for Violin and Viola in B-flat Major, K .424 (1783) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart opened the evening, and it casts the composer quite literally in a borrowed voice, as the work was written to help fellow composer Michael Haydn meet a deadline for his patron the Archbishop Colloredo. One of only two violin/viola duos that Mozart wrote, CamPac audiences had the pleasure of hearing the first one, K. 423, in January. Once again violinist Catherine Leonard and violist Richard Yongjae O’Neill stood before the audience and delivered an assured performance with panache. In the third movement, a set of variations on a theme, violin and viola traded dazzling runs of 16th notes, a palpable sense of fun on Leonard and O’Neill’s faces.
Next, cellist Ani Aznavoorian joined the other two principal string players for Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Trio in G Major, Op. 9, No. 1 (1798). It has been a long time since these three have performed alone together for CamPac audiences, and this Beethoven Trio was the perfect work to exhibit the cohesion, affection, and instinct that are the fruits of their years of association. Although this Trio, written by a 28-year-old Beethoven, clearly shows the impress of his classical mentors, there are Ludwig-esque moments, as in the first movement when a doorway suddenly opens in the tidy hallway, and we are dramatically whisked in an unexpected direction.
The sole work following intermission was Quintet for Strings in C Major, D. 956 (1828) by Franz Schubert. This extended piece, of nearly an hour in length, is widely considered one of the greatest string compositions ever written. CamPac principals were joined by violinist Ara Gregorian, a familiar regular, and a debut appearance by internationally acclaimed cellist Zuill Bailey. Collegiality was the order of the evening as Bailey joined the ensemble not as spotlight soloist as one might expect for such a guest but simply as “one of the band.” Schubert’s take on the quintet format doubles the cello rather than the viola, which is unusual. The composer makes full use of this additional heft in the low end, sometimes with tandem cellos taking the theme, at other times releasing the first cello to resonant upper register flights without the ensemble losing a low end anchor. Bailey’s 1693 Matteo Gofriller stood side-by-side with Aznavoorian’s 21st-century cello (made by her father), a 300-year span between — one instrument anticipating Schubert, the other reviewing him, at nearly the same time interval. Throughout the haunting theme in the “Allegro,” the solemnities of the “Adagio,” and the wild gypsy-like dance of its finish, the Camerata strings gave a brilliant and truly “classic” performance of this chamber music gem.