By Roger Emanuels
“MASTERPIECES CELEBRATING THE HUMAN JOURNEY,” the latest program by the Santa Cruz Chamber Players, served up a menu of music for string quartet, clarinet and piano, heard in Aptos on February 11. It was an unlikely program, with the only unifying theme being that all the pieces were composed in the 20th century. Yet it was a satisfying mix of composers from Europe and America.
The two anchors of the concert were Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes (1919) and the String Quartet (1903) by Ravel. Prokofiev’s ‘overture’ is a 10-minute work with melodies in the Jewish traditional style. Clarinetist Jeff Gallagher delivered colorful klezmer sounds in a toe-tapping performance. He was joined by Shannon Delaney and Brian Johnston, violins; Be’eri Moalem, viola; Aude Castagna, cello (pictured); and Vlada Volkova-Moran, piano.
Five short pieces for clarinet, cello and piano (1910) by Max Bruch were next. Though composed in the 20th century, they are more in the mid-19th century romantic style of Schumann. Expansive and lyrical, these pieces are ideal for the singing qualities of the clarinet and cello.
Castagna and Volkova-Moran closed the first part of the concert with an arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion (1984), a sultry Argentine tango for cello and piano.
The balance of the concert was for string quartet, with Adagio (1936) by Samuel Barber and the Ravel Quartet. The adagio is performed most often in a version for string orchestra, though originally it was composed as the slow movement of a string quartet. With only the four instruments, the effect is more intimate. But it sounds bare without the surrounding movements; it would have been more satisfying to hear the entire piece
The Ravel provided a substantial close to the program. An early work, it is one of few compositions that he wrote using traditional forms. Aside from it and his Piano Trio, Ravel produced no sonatas or symphonies or other classical forms. The performers created a well-balanced sound that allowed the principal lines to be heard over the turgid accompanying textures. Contrasts of tempo and timbres were effective in this engaging performance.
Santa Cruz Chamber Players will return with concerts on March 11 and 12 at Christ Lutheran Church in Aptos. That program also features music for string quartet, clarinet and piano.