By Roger Emanuels
A PROGRAM of rarely heard music was the offering of the Santa Cruz Chamber Players directed by pianist Ivan Rosenblum (pictured) at Christ Lutheran in Aptos on March 11. Music for different combinations of clarinet, piano, and string quartet comprised a program of rarely heard chamber music, with composers from the early 19th through the 20th centuries.
Spanish short-lived Spanish composer Juan Arriaga—he died at age 19—from Bilbao was a contemporary of Beethoven and Schubert. His String Quartet No. 1 is a work in the style of Haydn that gives most of the action to the first violin, with some commentary in the cello. The second violin and viola have little to do but fill out the texture and harmony. The performance was cheerful and upbeat, but lacked razor sharp rhythmic precision required in this style. Violinists Shannon Delaney and Rachel Magnus Hartman were joined by violist Arlyn Knapic and cellist Aude Castagna.
Italian-born American composer Gian Carlo Menotti is most known for his operas, though he produced some purely instrumental chamber music, including the Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano. The three movements radiate ravishing melody with colorful harmony, effectively played by violinist Delaney, clarinetist James Pytko, and pianist Rosenblum. An arrangement for the same instruments of the composer’s Ricercare for piano solo preceded the Trio as a prelude movement, but has little to do with the Trio.
The Austrian Alexander Zemlinsky is increasingly found on programs of chamber music and symphonic concerts. His Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano is a solid work that illustrates the influence of Brahms, who was encouraging to Zemlinsky. The thick textures became piano heavy with the lid open. The clarinet effectively competed with the piano, but the cello sound was lost in the din. The problem of balance was the same in the Suite for Violin and Piano by William Grant Still. Shannon Delaney played with great character in the jazzy movements, but the effect was distracted by the heavy sound of the piano with the lid wide open.
Aaron Copland’s Sextet, for all the instruments, was the highlight of the evening. The ensemble had an excellent balance, certainly due to the piano lid being lowered. Each instrument could be heard clearly. The excellent performance captured the essence of the music in an engaging manner that made this rather abstract music enjoyable.