The light was fast changing on the first afternoon of Pacific standard time, the warm golden November hue burnishing the stain glass in Trinity Episcopal Church. There is always an air of unreality to this chronologically ambiguous day, as if the extra hour had stretched thin the membrane of things, and an unseen world loomed close by. This magical sensibility conspired with the wood-rich and reverb-friendly interior of Trinity to make for more than idyllic chamber music vibes. Enter pianist Bridget Hough-Meynenc and violist Rachel Galvin, aka Duo Impetuoso, two up-and-coming bright lights on the classical scene in Santa Barbara and beyond. Hough-Meynenc is a freshly-minted UCSB performance PhD and Galvin is poised at the same threshold. Both have been making the music-festival and master-class rounds, forging connections and accumulating awards that indicate promising career trajectories. But equally important, both have also shared their music-making talents in diverse regional contexts. This free community concert, courtesy of the Music at Trinity concert series, was a case in point. For the fortunate audience gathered on Sunday afternoon, the experience was not so much a filling up of an extra hour gained as a happy slipping out of time altogether.
The program, aptly entitled “The Romantic Viola,” spread out a fine representative sampling from the romantic color deck, including Schubert, Sibelius, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák and Rachmaninoff, topped off with the signature work by 20th-century British-American composer and violist Rebecca Clarke, Sonata for Viola and Piano (1919). With the exception of the latter, none of the works were originally scored for viola — all were adaptations, mostly by Hough-Meynenc and Galvin, who have specialized academic training in orchestral reductions. This means the immortal cadences of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, for example, rose up both old and new at same time. The pleasures of the viola’s dual character — capable of dipping into cello-dense lows, or soaring into the violin’s sky — found special expression in the reiteration of themes in markedly different voices.
Hough-Meynenc is a seemingly effortless collaborator, with shrewd attention to flow, volume, presence, and mood in following the soloist. Galvin demonstrates a broad familiarity with tonal language and technique, from rich woody legato to buzzing harmonic-edged tremolo. Together the duo played and breathed as one, displaying poise, poetry, and sensitivity throughout. Intelligent variety in the program bobbed between slow and fast and exploited ranges of texture. The opening theme of Frédéric Chopin’s Prélude in E minor, Op. 28, No. 4 was achingly transparent (and suddenly so personal when voiced by viola), while Clarke’s Sonata ventured into modern tonal complexity, with racing passages that were as breathtaking as they were beautiful.
The Santa Barbara public always wins when the talent of the academy spills over into the city and community-minded institutions, like Trinity Episcopal Church, generously open their doors. Whether daylight time, standard time, or triple time, Duo Impetuoso shows us why great classical music elevates any hour.