Santa Cruz Chamber Players

Brian JohnstonBy Roger Emanuels

“AN ARC OF ROMANTICISM” was the theme of the Santa Cruz Chamber Players concert on February 24 in Aptos. Two chamber music monuments of the 19th century fit nicely with some early classical pieces by Beethoven. Those pieces are the movements of Beethoven’s Serenade, Op. 8, for violin, viola, and cello—music probably intended for entertainment, charming and tuneful, background music for a party. The various dances and marches give ample opportunity for each instrument to take the lead. The first four movements served as an introduction to Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat. After intermission, the final three movements of the Trio introduced Brahms’ Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60. The program illustrated the birth of modern chamber music, from the late classical era to the heights of the romantic.

Violinist Brian Johnston (pictured), violist Shannon Delaney D’Antonio and cellist Aude Castagna were augmented by violinist Be’eri Moalem pianist Ben Dorfan for the quintet.

Robert Schumann’s immensely popular Piano Quintet, of 1842, always pleases and abounds in lyrical melody, rhythmic vitality and rich harmonies, a work that has inspired many subsequent composers to write for the same ensemble. The ebullience of the first movement gives way to a funeral march in the second. Shannon Delaney D’Antonio’s viola lines added a rich resonance to the texture. The following Scherzo was bubbly aperitif to the final Allegro movement. It was a treat to hear the instruments clearly even with the piano lid fully open. (Many times in past SCCP concerts the piano would easily overpower the strings.)

Schumann writes a discreet piano part, but it was the sensitive playing of Ben Dorfan that created a balanced texture. The challenge was greater in the Quartet for strings and piano by Brahms. Here the piano writing is thicker, but as in the Schumann, it was kept in check most of the time. The heart of the work for this listener is the slow third movement, oddly cast in the key of E Major while the other three are in c minor. The shift of tonality gives it a special aura as the cello spins out the lush melody, here under the bow of Aude Castagna. The Finale provided an exciting finish to this great work.