By Roger Emanuels
THERE ARE ENDLESS WAYS to program a chamber music concert. Symmetry and balance often prevail. Yet the approach of the Black Cedar Trio has neither, mixing classics with avant-garde and a dash of folk music into an oddly coherent and entertaining evening. Presented by Santa Cruz Chamber Players on November 19 at Christ Lutheran Church in Aptos, the Black Cedar Trio consists of Kris Palmer, flute; Steve Lin, guitar; and Isaac Pastor-Chermak, cello. The odd element was represented by the diversity of origins of the music, and entertaining because of the high quality of the performances.
A sparkling and spirited presto by Joseph Haydn marked the beginning of the concert and set the mood for the evening. It was the first of four movements derived from an early string quartet thought to have been adapted for flute, guitar and cello by an 18th century lutenist. That would explain the short, delightful virtuoso guitar cadenza in the finale. Kris Palmer performs with a wooden flute rather than the more common silver flute, producing a dark sound that blends well with the other wooden instruments. The trio creates a warm texture and the Haydn work was a good way to introduce their sound to the audience.
There is very little music composed for these three instruments, though the Sonata in E Minor for flute and continuo by J.S. Bach comes close, only substituting the guitar for the traditional harpsichord. The cello plays the traditional bass line. Palmer plays the classics with authority, reflecting her studies in 18th century performance practice. She finds the character of each movement and presents it in an engaging manner. The Trio has a crisp and articulate sound all around, and they play joyfully in the joyful movements. Balance was never an issue, and even delicate passages in the guitar were easily heard.
The Haydn and Bach trios were separated on the program by a palette-cleansing 20th century trio by Toru Takemitsu, which requires alto flute, a larger cousin of the traditional flute. The sound is lower and dark. The three movements of Toward the Sea explore a large range of atmospheric sounds, emphasizing textures rather than melody or rhythm.
A portion of the program was devoted to folk music from around the world. The five pieces selected were truly from around the world but were not really folk music. But that doesn’t matter when the audience is engaged. These pieces were chosen to allow each musician to perform alone. John Dowland’s Fortune my Foe is a set of variations for guitar with moments of virtuoso passagework. Steve Lin delivered the demanding work with ease.
Cellist Pastor-Chermak gave a solid performance of the unaccompanied two movements by Henry Cowell, Gravely and Vigorously, which were composed in response to the assassination of President Kennedy. Isaac’s sure pitch and his convincing architecture of the work delivered the emotional impact intended by the composer.
Kris Palmer again played the silver alto flute in a short piece by Chinese flutist Tan Mi Zi. It explores the extended techniques of the instrument.
It was a surprise to hear a tango by Gardel, in an impassioned performance of Por una Cabeza. It was paired with an arrangement of a piece by Piazzolla that is not a tango. Both pieces were arrangements by guitarist Steve Lin.
In their efforts to bring more original compositions to their instruments, the Black Cedar played a work they commissioned, Miscellaneous Music by California composer Durwynne Hsieh. It’s a substantial work of three movements that combines flute, cello and guitar in imaginative ways.
A short encore closed the evening, a tarantella by Rossini that has all three musicians scampering with agility up and down scales and arpeggios. It reflected the overall pacing of the concert. With so many separate pieces there is a danger of too much space between movements and between pieces. The Trio maintained a lively pace with no lagging moments.