By Scott MacClelland
SINCE FOREVER Bruce Bratton has called Santa Cruz “the sunny side of the bay.” In response, the late Patrick Franklin—who died from AIDS in 1990—anointed it “the funny side of the bay.” As a Banana Slug graduate in the early 1980s, I share that view. Those views.
I stumbled upon Bratton Sunday afternoon in Aptos to hear cellist Aude Castagna and her colleagues open the 41st season of the Santa Cruz Chamber Players in a delightfully ‘sunny/funny’ program of chamber music by Bohuslav Martinů, Mikhail Glinka, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carl Maria von Weber and Paquito D’Rivera, all household names if you’re into that kind of thing.
Actually, Castagna, the concert’s director, titled her show Blowing in the Wind: Sweet and Spicy Music for Woodwinds, Piano and Cello. The woodwinds belonged to Lars Johannesson (pictured above with pianist Vlada Volkova-Moran and cellist Castagna) and clarinetist Jeff Gallagher. SCCP audiences are faithful and dedicated fans of SCCP players, local talent who gleefully advance their cause usually with obscure repertoire but always with infectious enthusiasm.
Both were on display at Christ Lutheran Church at the terminus of Soquel Drive, within earshot of the freeway. Martinů (1890-1959) was born 193 steps up a church tower in a small town on the border between Bohemia and Moravia where his shoemaker father served as a sexton. The Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano (1944), certainly a regional premiere, began with a quick Poco allegretto that led to a gorgeous Adagio while the final Allegretto seemed charmingly schizophrenic thanks to its darting changes of character. (Whether that was intended or merely a consequence of this reading I could not be sure.)
Glinka’s classically-formed, four-movement Trio “Pathétique” in D Minor (1827) that followed—with clarinet replacing flute—embraced the vanities of Italian bel canto opera—think Bellini in particular—which means inflated pathos punctuated with plenty of sighing appoggiaturas (leaning tones) that recall the droll tropes with which Mozart decorated the slow movements of his later piano concertos.
That piece would be balanced in the concert’s second half by Weber’s Trio in G Minor (1820) with the flute back in service. Its slow third movement, titled Shepherd’s Lament, was essentially a folksong harvested from some alpine meadow.
It was framed by The Jet Whistle by Villa-Lobos, three very clever movements, the last one ending with Johannesson blasting toneless air through his flute, an imitation of the sound of a jet engine, and two short pieces by saxophonist/composer D’Rivera that threw some extra chiles into the recipe. Gallagher’s assertive clarinet was initially accompanied by percussion on Castagna’s cello, both overshadowing Volkova-Moran’s otherwise essential piano. No harm done, and a cheering audience response.
As for the freeway in earshot, the last concert of the season, in May, will find the Chamber Players at a new venue, St John’s Episcopal, on the other side of Highway 1 and beneficially much quieter.
PS I can’t wait to read D’Rivera’s autobio Mi Vida Saxuel.