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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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