By Roger Emanuels
THE VALENTINE WEEKEND Santa Cruz Chamber Players concert “Dolcissime: O Sweetest Sound” served up a variety of tasty confections. Melody was the unifying element throughout the program, as expressed by composers from Mozart to Santa Cruz’s Barry Phillips whose new Dolcissime Suite featured the full ensemble of five musicians.
But it was the rich and resonant voice of mezzo-soprano Solmaaz Adeli—pictured, right, as Flora in Albinoni’s La Nascimento dell’Aurora—that attracted attention starting with the opening work, an aria from Mozart’s final opera La Clemenza di Tito, a virtuoso duet with clarinet played by concert director Jeff Gallagher. Pianist Don Adkins provided the discreet orchestra accompaniment. Christ Lutheran Church in Aptos was almost too confining a space for the large sound that Adeli produces. It is a warm sound that envelopes the audience.
A natural choice for a modern setting of melody was the 1949 Aria by Lou Harrison from his Suite for Cello and Harp, performed by Barry Phillips and Don Adkins who played a version for piano. The lights were turned off for the performance, which produced a meditative mood for this slowly developing piece. Long tones in the cello join the accompaniment of continuous rolling arpeggios in the piano.
Flutist Lars Johannesson offered the Pastoral Suite by Swedish composer Gunnar de Frumerie, composed in 1944. Frumerie was a noted concert pianist and professor of composition in Stockholm. Johannesson and pianist Adkins worked well together to bring out the long melodic lines. Frumerie’s music reflects the Scandinavian Romantic tradition, even though three of the five movements of the suite draw on 18th century dance rhythms.
Solmaaz Adeli returned to sing five songs by Erich Korngold, eminent Austrian composer who eventually provided music for major Hollywood films. Four of the songs are based on music from those films, while the final song text is a Shakespeare sonnet. The songs, published in 1950, were composed for the flamboyant Moravian soprano Maria Jeritza who had premiered two of Korngold’s operas in Vienna. Ms. Adeli again projected a beautiful and substantial sound.
Dolcissime Suite by Phillips, Grammy Award winning cellist and composer, was a commission from Jeff Gallagher and the Santa Cruz Chamber Players and composed for this concert. It is written for mezzo-soprano, flute, clarinet, cello and piano. The singer only uses vocables, or simple syllables, mostly “ah” and humming with closed mouth. Phillips explains in the program notes that he hopes that “this will convey the poetic feeling I am trying to express more than words and poetry for this particular piece.” Adeli infused character into her wordless part as if she was delivering a narrative.
In his comments, Phillips credits the late composers Lou Harrison and Ravi Shankar as major influences on his career. The Indian influence of Shankar was apparent from the Introduction, which was the title of the first movement. Repeating ostinato figures resemble sounds heard in Indian music. There was an improvisational quality about the Aria, the second movement, with the singer producing only humming sounds. The third movement, Journey One, featured long tones and dissonant tone clusters. As the instrumental ensemble created a cluster of notes, the mezzo-soprano would then insert a dissonant tone into the cluster, creating vivid colors of sound. Movements four and five utilized the techniques of the earlier movements. The work was enthusiastically received by the audience, as much for the success of a new work as for the convincing first performance.