Review: Camerata Pacifica at Hahn Hall

Season Finale Concert Revisited 2004 Commission on May 9

When Camerata Pacifica starts up again in September, it will be a silver anniversary year for the unparalleled chamber group. A new string trio by John Harbison will be premiered, and the group’s first-ever CD will be released — a much-anticipated disc of all-Harbison music on the prestigious Harmonia Mundi label. Friday’s season finale seemed to bubble with an air of anticipation, as well as celebration for a long road well traveled. One of the two major works on the program, Jake Heggie’s “Winter Roses,” was retrospective — Camerata’s first major commission 10 years ago. The evening also featured two short delights from the repertoire of new horn player Martin Owen, and a gorgeous work by 19th-century German organist Josef Rheinberger.

In the middle of Olivier Messiaen’s 12-movement Des canyons aux étoiles is an ‘interstellar call’ titled “Appel Interstellaire,” for unaccompanied horn, which opened the concert as a stand-alone piece. With finesse and humor, Owen tossed off this very difficult solo easily, and demonstrated a color wheel of sounds: majestic declarations, smears, half-valve tinny murmurs, tongue rolls, and whale-like moans. In the second half, Owen returned, this time with pianist Adam Neiman for Robert Schumann’s Adagio & Allegro in A-Flat Major, Op.70. But the evening was really about big sound and beautiful, lush orchestration. Eleven instrumentalists backed soprano Kate Allen for the Heggie work, which sets seven poems — two by Frederica von Stade, the singer for the premiere in 2004. Heggie’s brilliant orchestration feels like time-lapse footage of flowers blooming, with beautifully dynamic currents running underneath the soloist’s soaring lines. Rheinberger’s Nonet in E-Flat Major featured four strings and five winds — a masterpiece that few of us, I will guess, knew anything about. It is hard to imagine the piece being played any better. But that’s what Camerata Pacifica is all about.

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